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Events & Culture

Inside Out: The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, Directed by Jennifer M. Kroot

This year’s Inside Out Festival promises a stacked schedule of films, covering everything from one-night stands with ex-girlfriends to homeless LGBTQ youth to queer Muslim wrestlers. We have scoured the lineup for the best and the brightest.

In The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, Director Jennifer Kroot chronicles Maupin’s life from his conservative upbringing in North Carolina to 1970s San Francisco where he captured the rapidly changing political and social climate in his celebrated “Tales of the City” column for San Francisco Chronicle.

SDTC: How were you first introduced to the work of Armistead?

JK: I first read the original Tales of the City books around 1994 when when the miniseries first came out on PBS. One of my friends had suggested it. I was young and living in SF with LGBT and straight friends. I resonated with the stories immediately! They reflected my life at the time. I’ve cherished them since then.

I also grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I remember my parents read “Tales” when it first appeared as a fictional newspaper column in the 1970s in theSan Francisco Chronicle. “Tales” really captures and documents what I remember about SF at that time: the weirdness and creativity, the open sexuality and the beauty of SF.

What did you learn about Armistead that surprised you?

When I was first reading about Armistead and considering asking him if I could make a documentary about him, I was shocked to learn that he had been so vehemently conservative in his youth. His family was close with Jesse Helms’s family, and Jesse Helms gave Armistead his first writing job.

Jesse Helms went on to become one of the most conservative and homophobic senators of the USA, ever. Armistead was closeted at the time, of course. Helms was running a television station in North Carolina and doing conservative editorials.

After that, Armistead volunteered for Vietnam. He was honoured personally by President Richard Nixon for being a young conservative in support of the war! It’s hard to believe that this was actually Armistead. He had such a major life transformation after he moved to SF and came out. It proves that people can change. I was also quite intrigued to hear about Armistead’s “friends with benefits” relationship with Rock Hudson!

Why do you think his work continues to hold such appeal?

Armistead’s work is captivating to a wide variety of people because of the humanity and honesty within it. His characters become beloved as they deal with finding home and family. That’s something everyone can relate to. It doesn’t matter if people are LGBT, straight, conservative or liberal. Everyone wants to find support and acceptance. Everyone feels alone at times too. Almost everyone has issues with their biological family and may have to search for what Armistead calls a “logical family.” This is a chosen family of like-minded people.

What do you want audiences to take away from this film?

So far, I’ve been happy to see that audiences deeply resonate with the idea of “logical family.” People are moved by what Armistead went through, trying to please his conservative father, and ultimately being honest with himself and opening his heart and then choosing his logical family in San Francisco. I’ve been happy to see that this is affirming for all types of people.

The film also depicts the evolution of San Francisco. While Armistead has lived in SF, it’s gone from hippies and sexual freedom to the AIDS crisis and now into the tech world. Armistead has a healthy perspective over this evolution. I’ve actually stopped complaining about the changes in SF because of Armistead’s attitude.

I hope other people will feel this way about accepting the evolution of life. It’s a challenge to get older and watch the world change around you.

The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin screens May 28 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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