Category: About the Film

The Filmmakers of Vito Movie

Jeffrey Schwarz (Producer / Director) is President & CEO of Automat Pictures, a leading producer of studio EPKs (electronic press kit), Blu-ray and DVD content, original TV programming, and feature films. He has contributed to the success of dozens of major studio releases for directors such as Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Sam Mendes, Wes Craven, Rob Reiner, Joe Dante, Barry Sonnenfeld, Paul Verhoeven, John Carpenter, Chris Columbus, and the Coen Brothers. Television productions include Starz’s Sex and the Cinema, In the GutterHitchcocked! and Shooting the Police: Cops on Film, and IFC’s Reservoir Dogs Revisited and Still Swingin’. Automat Pictures provided exclusive backstage content for the 2010 Academy Awards produced by Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic. In 2008, Jeffrey premiered the GayVN award winning feature documentary Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon, a portrait of adult film star Jack Wrangler. It is distributed by TLA Releasing and had its television debut on the LOGO network. Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, about the legendary Hollywood showman, won the 2007 AFI Fest Documentary Audience Award among many other festival honors. It was released in 2009 by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. He is currently in production on I Am Divine, an independent feature documentary about John Waters’ legendary muse. A New York native, Jeffrey attended SUNY Purchase’s Film Department. His first job in the film industry was as an apprentice editor on The Celluloid Closet, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s film adaptation of Vito Russo’s seminal book.

Bryan Singer (Executive Producer) Since his debut feature film, Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Public Access, Bryan Singer has consistently entertained audiences by directing films that can be characterized by his bold visual style and richly drawn characters. Bryan first gained widespread attention in 1995 with the mystery/thriller The Usual Suspects, which won two Academy Awards ® for Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Subsequently he directed the feature films Apt Pupil, X-Men, X2: X-Men United, Superman Returns, and Valkyrie. In television, Singer directed the pilot and serves as an executive producer on the Emmy® and Golden Globe®award winning FOX series House, and also served as Executive Producer on the ABC Emmy® and Golden Globe® award nominated series Dirty Sexy Money. Singer has directed and/or produced a myriad of other projects through his Bad Hat Harry Productions banner, a motion picture, television and video game production company he formed in 1994. A few of his producing endeavors include the feature length documentary Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman; the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries The Triangle; the genre film festival favorite Trick ‘r Treat; and the upcoming sci-fi web series H+ for Warner Brothers. Most recently, Singer has returned to the X-Men universe as producer on X-Men: First Class, a prequel based on his original story. He is concurrently directing the epic 3D live action film, Jack the Giant Killer.

Philip Harrison (Editor/Co-Producer) has collaborated as editor with Jeffrey Schwarz on the documentaries Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, No Day But Today: The Story of Rent and Never Sleep Again: The Making of A Nightmare on Elm Street. He has also edited The Last Lullaby(2008 San Diego Film Festival Audience Award), On These Shoulders We Stand (2009 Outfest Special Program Award), Bam Bam and Celeste (2005 Toronto Film Festival premiere), and Die Mommie, Die! (Special Jury Prize for Best Performance at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival). Philip is a graduate of the SUNY Purchase Film Department, and was an editor at the 2006 Sundance Director’s Lab.

headshot-lottiLotti Pharriss Knowles (Co-Producer) is a co-owner and partner in Weirdsmobile Productions, Inc. Chastity Bites, their first feature film which Lotti wrote and produced, is currently in post-production. She also produced the short films Weak Species, based on the writings of cult author Dennis Cooper (Winner, Best Short – FilmOut San Diego, Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival and Great Lakes Film Festival) and Shadow.Net (Winner, Best Thriller – Dragon*Con Independent Short Film Festival, Golden Ace Award – Las Vegas Film Festival), and the world premiere production of her play Because They Have No Words…No Words was nominated for two 2007 LA Stage Alliance Ovation Awards for Best Ensemble and World Premiere Play, and was published in 2011 by Northwestern University Press as part of the anthology Katrina Onstage. Lotti is currently a co-producer of Jeffrey Schwarz’s upcoming feature documentary I Am Divine. She holds a B.S. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University, and an M.A. in Theatre from University of Illinois at Chicago.

David Quantic (Director of Photography) VITO is David’s first feature documentary for Automat Pictures. Other DP credits include Rise Up and Shout!, a feature documentary that appeared on the Sundance Channel, Transatlantic a short film David shot and directed in Berlin, and Cuando Los Autobuses, a feature documentary shot entirely in Spain that is currently in post production. David began his photography career in New York City after graduating from Southern Methodist University with an BFA in Studio Art. In 1999 he moved to Los Angeles where he attended the MFA Directing program at UCLA. He completed the program in 2004 and is currently living, writing, shooting and editing in Los Angeles.

Miriam Cutler (Composer) has an extensive background in scoring for independent film & TV projects, as well as two circuses. Her passion for documentary film has led to a focus in non-fiction with credits including award winning and festival favorites: Academy Award nominated Poster Girl (IDFA,Telluride, HBO); One Lucky Elephant (LAFF, IDFA, OWN); Family Affair (Sundance, OWN); The Fence (Sundance, HBO); Desert of Forbidden Art (PBS Independent Lens, Cine Eagle Award); Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech (Sundance, HBO); Emmy Award winner Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (Sundance, HBO); Thin (Sundance, HBO, Emmy Nom); Chris and Don: A Love Story (Telluride, Theatrical); China Blue (Toronto, IDFA, Independent Lens Audience Award); Absolute Wilson (CineMax, Berlin); Lost in La Mancha (Telluride, Berlin, BAFTA nom); Scouts Honor (PBS, 2 Sundance awards); Pandemic: Facing AIDS (HBO); Licensed to Kill (Berlin, 2 Sundance awards) and more. Miriam Co-Produced as well as scored One Lucky Elephant. She has served as lab advisor for the Sundance Institute Documentary Composers Lab, as well as on documentary juries for the Sundance Film Festival, Independent Spirit Awards, International Documentary Association Awards, and American Film Institute’s Film Festival Awards and is a Society of Composers and Lyricists Board member. She has also co-produced live jazz albums on PolyGram/Verve for Joe Williams (two Grammy nominated albums), Nina Simone, Shirley Horn, and Marlena Shaw as well as independently released albums of her own songs and soundtracks.

Jon Glover (Associate Producer) has worked on television and film documentaries for Lucasfilm, Ltd., 20th Century Fox, HBO, Nickelodeon, Discovery Channel, A&E, Travel Channel and National Geographic Channel. In addition to researching for the Emmy-winning series Biography for A&E he has produced and researched on such notable documentaries as: Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy, I.O.U.S.A., Square Roots: The Story of SpongeBob SquarePants and Where I Stand: The Story of Hank Greenspun. Jon has worked with Automat Pictures on past projects for Starz and HBO. Vito is his first feature documentary with the company.

Adam Robitel (Associate Producer) is a filmmaker, screenwriter, editor, and actor. On the screenwriting side, Adam’s original screenplay based on America’s first serial killing family is being fast-tracked by producers Don Murphy (Transformers/Real Steal) and Susan Montford (In the Mountains of Madness). The Bloody Benders, an unholy blend of western epic, horror, and love story is being packaged with a high-profile director at its helm. On the acting side, Adam’s motion picture debut was Fox’s X-Men, where he was thrown like a rag-doll by an eight-foot mutant. Adam landed a leading role in 2001 Maniacs, a comedy-horror remake of the 1964 cult classic, starring with Robert England (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Lyn Shaye (Insidious). Robitel has subsequently starred in 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams, an adaptation of Steven King’s One For The Road, and Image Entertainment’s Chillerama, heralded as “the ultimate midnight movie”! Robitel also runs RMW (Robitel Media Works LLC) a film / TV / web production/post-production company that specializes in content creation from concept to completion. Robitel graduated from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with a minor in acting. He is thrilled to in some small way, participate in the legacy of Vito Russo.

Taryn Teigue (Associate Producer) joined Jeffrey Schwarz’s company Automat Pictures in 2003. She oversees many facets of production, including research, coordinating shoots and locations, travel arrangements, clearance, and countless other responsibilities. While still an undergraduate at South Carolina’s Francis Marion University, Taryn developed and produced an episode of The Focus Show for a local news station in Florence, SC. After graduating with a B.A. in Mass Communications, she has served in several different areas of the entertainment industry, including On-Set Key Production Assistant for Media Masters, Inc. Taryn has developed skills in virtually every aspect of production, giving her a broad technical knowledge she still utilizes today. She served as associate producer on Schwarz’s previous documentaries Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story and Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon.

Vito Movie Director’s Statement

After coming out and becoming secure in my identity as a gay man, I naturally gravitated toward films with LGBT themes. This was the early 90s, and movies like My Own Private IdahoThe Living EndPoison, and Swoon were formative. These films were outré, edgy, and empowering for a young queer. Even though I was a newbie, there was one book that everyone knew was the bible of gay film. It was called “The Celluloid Closet” by somebody named Vito Russo. This book combined my two favorite obsessions — homosexuality and the movies — and I devoured it. Vito introduced me to a whole world of images I had no idea existed, and helped me see films in a new way. As an activist, Vito knew that the key to acceptance was visibility and championed sympathetic and realistic portrayals of our lives.

When I found out that Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Freidman were making “The Celluloid Closet” into a film, I jumped at the chance to be part of it. Working with Rob and Jeffrey as an assistant editor on The Celluloid Closet film adaptation gave me a chance to help them bring Vito’s vision to the screen. It also allowed me to get to know Vito Russo, only three years after his death from AIDS. All of Vito’s research for “The Celluloid Closet” was at my fingertips — interviews, articles, videotapes, lectures — and best of all, Rob and Jeffrey’s extended conversations with Vito himself. Beyond his work as a film scholar, I learned about the years Vito spent battling AIDS as both a person with the disease and a passionate and angry agent for change. Although he didn’t live long enough to see much of the progress he had been hoping for, his work forever changed the landscape for those living with the disease.

The idea of a film came about when I realized that Vito participated in every significant milestone in the gay liberation movement — from Stonewall to ACT UP — and that his story was also the story of our community. A documentary could contextualize how he and his gay liberation brothers and sisters were able to begin to overcome homophobia and oppression, and emerge from invisibility to liberation. We are all living the end result Vito’s work, and our freedom is his gift to us.

As time marches on, a new generation of LGBT youth is coming of age without knowing about pioneers like Vito Russo and how he made it possible for us to live proudly and openly in the world. Vito’s message of standing up, speaking out, and living passionately and bravely in the face of adversity is something we can all aspire to, regardless of sexual orientation. More than twenty years after Vito’s death, members of the LGBT community around the world still face prejudice and persecution, and HIV / AIDS is still a crisis. Vito knew the goal of equality goal of equality and justice would not be achieved in his lifetime, but that it would come to pass. It’s my hope that this film will celebrate one of the founding fathers of the LGBT movement, and allow his work to once again move and inspire us all as we continue the battles that he once fought.