This Friday, April 19th, the restoration of Shirley Clarke’s seminal 1967 LGBT film Portait of Jason will finally get a US release at New York’s IFC Center. Milestone Films, owned by the team of husband-and-wife distributors Dennis Doros and Amy Heller who previously restored such classics as Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers, unearthed an original 16mm interpositive of the film that was mislabeled as outtakes and sought to crowd-source the funds to restore the film via Kickstarter.
After meeting their $25,000 goal they partnered with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Academy Film Archive in LA to bring the 16mm black-and-white film back to its original quality on film and DCP.
It was on December 2, 1966 that American independent film and documentary pioneer Shirley Clarke filmed an interview with Jason Holliday, a gay African American and self-proclaimed hustler and raconteur, in her apartment at the Hotel Chelsea for twelve straight hours. The resulting film shows a unique and arresting portrait of a man searching through his identity as a gay black man during the turbulent world of 1960s America. The film originally played at the New York Film Festival and was singled out by Ingmar Bergman as “the most fascinating film I’ve ever seen.”
The restoration is part of a multi-year endeavor by Doros and Heller called “Project Shirley” which seeks to revive and make available all of Clarke’s groundbreaking cinéma vérité work that has gone unnoticed for decades. The original master material for Portrait of Jason, for example, was lost for over 45 years.
After premiering at the 2013 Berlinale in February, the restoration moves to the IFC – just 20 blocks from where it was originally filmed – for a theatrical run and will eventually premiere on Turner Classic Movies before Milestone handles the Blu-ray and DVD release.
The folks at Milestone are hoping to re-introduce this classic LGBT film into the canon, and breathe new life into one of the most fascinating documentaries you’ve never heard of. Check out more about Project Shirley here, and Milestone films here.