I Am Divine director Jeffrey Schwarz on Film Society’s Daily Buzz with Eugene Hernandez

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Jeffrey Schwarz stopped by the Daily Buzz studios in Austin’s Stateside Theater to discuss his new documentary I Am Divine. Divine was a “midnight movie queen” and the muse and collaborator of John Waters. He starred in some of Waters’s most beloved films like Pink Flamingos and Female Troubles. Tragically, Divine died at the young age of 42, just days after the premiere of Hairspray, which went on to be the duo’s biggest success.

In speaking about his inspiration for the making the film, Schwarz referenced this tragedy: “That was the first Divine movie I ever saw, Hairspray. I had seen it just a few weeks after he died and I remember thinking how unfair it was that the world was robbed of this incredible talent and that there would never be another Divine movie again. So, in making this movie, we’re finally giving the world another Divine movie and Divine is playing himself this time.”

Schwarz also discussed the importance of John Waters’s support in making this film, saying he never would have started the project without the “blessing from the Pope of Trash.” The relationship between Waters and Divine was also a source of inspiration for Schwarz.

“I love the idea that Divine and John had this symbiotic relationship,” he explained. “Divine was John Waters’s muse in all those early films. They developed the character together.”

Divine’s story seems particularly relevant at a time where the problem of bullying has entered the public conversation in a major way through projects like Dan Savage’s It Gets Better and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. I Am Divine depicts this issue in a vivid way and, fortunately, with a happy ending.

“Divine was very much that kind of a kid,” Schwarz said of the victims of bullying. “He had a really tough time in high school. He was beat up every day after class. He was really tormented on a daily basis by bullies. It wasn’t until he met John Waters and met all these other outsiders, beatniks, other gay people, that he found a group that would accept him.”

Learn more about this larger-than-life character by listening to our Daily Buzz podcast from SXSW. You’ll also hear interviews with the filmmakers behind The Bounceback and Los Wild Ones, a roundtable debate about the best movies to come out of the past few days, and SXSW director Janet Pierson reflecting about the festival’s 20th anniversary edition.


Hot Topics:
Bernie Cho, DFSB Korea
Mekado Murphy, New York Times
Kristin McCracken, Film Wax

Filmmaker Interviews:
I Am Divine (Jeffrey Schwarz)
The Bounceback (Bryan Poyser)
Los Wild Ones (Elise Solomon)

Festival Veteran:
Janet Pierson, SXSW