QUEER VOICES
06/19/2019 09:28 EDT | Updated 06/19/2019 16:43 EDT

This Restored Documentary Examines What LGBTQ Lives Were Like Before 1969

1984's "Before Stonewall" takes an in-depth look at the pre-Pride era. It's being re-released in theaters this month.

The creators of a seminal LGBTQ rights documentary are marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising by giving their film a crisp and timely revamp. 

Via the clip above, HuffPost got a sneak peek at the digitally restored version of “Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community,” which will be released by First Run Features in select New York and Los Angeles theaters this month. In it, Beat author and poet Allen Ginsberg offers his take on the Kinsey Scale ― pioneering sexologist Alfred Kinsey’s early (and controversial) method of describing the spectrum of human sexuality.

(Watch the “Before Stonewall” scene exclusively on HuffPost above.) 

Segments of “Before Stonewall,” which debuted at the 1984 Toronto Festival of Festivals (known today as the Toronto International Film Festival) prior to its U.S. release a year later, read almost clinical by present day standards. However, the film’s director, Greta Schiller, and co-director Robert Rosenberg said their research for the film ― which traces LGBTQ lives and visibility as they existed in America prior to the 1969 Stonewall uprising ― was “exhilarating,” if arduous, work in the pre-internet years of the early 1980s. 

First Run Features
Photographs of women, circa 1950s, as seen in "Before Stonewall."

“My vision, shared by the creative team, was to do a decade-by-decade survey that represented the rich diversity of gay and lesbian experiences,” Schiller said about the film. “We were asking people who lived most of their lives in the closet to go public, and it was essential we earn their trust. In 1982 ... coming out meant you could lose everything.” 

Added Rosenberg, “LGBTQ history, queer studies ― all of that ― was in its infancy as an academic field, and very, very little had yet been published. It was to some extent sowing new ground, exhilarating but also real work.” 

Their efforts paid off. The Los Angeles Times praised “Before Stonewall” as being “invaluable as a historical record” in a 1985 review, while The New York Times called it “a modest and intelligent film.” The documentary also picked up two Emmy Awards for Best Historical Film and Best Research. 

Revisiting the newly restored “Before Stonewall” 35 years after its premiere, Rosenberg said he was once again struck by its “powerful” and “acutely relevant” narrative. 

First Run Features
From left: "Before Stonewall" director Greta Schiller, executive producer John Scagliotti and co-director Robert Rosenberg in 1985.

“It also feels like another era, way before same-sex marriage, before rainbow flags and ‘love is love’ slogans across corporate America,” he said. “Everything has changed, and keeps changing.” 

Schiller, who also directed 2002’s “I Live at Ground Zero” and 2010’s “No Dinosaurs in Heaven,” said she’s hopeful modern LGBTQ audiences will take the time to view the film. Doing so, she added, will give those viewers ― who are familiar with marriage equality and other social advances ― a better perspective on how “their freedoms and identities came to be.” 

“So many of the problems the world faces are due to a lack of historical understanding,” she said. “To get some understanding of the formation of our gay and lesbian community, we can all feel some pride.”

“Before Stonewall” hits select theaters in New York and Los Angeles on June 21 and 28, respectively, followed by a series of national screenings.

Watch the film’s official trailer below.