Documentary Turns Lens on Murder of Gay Man in Jackson Heights
A film nearly a decade in the making is complete and just made its world premiere. As NY1's Shannan Ferry explains, it's about someone who made a big impact in the borough.
It's a story that brought the Jackson Heights community to its feet in 1990: the murder of a 29-year-old openly gay man, Julio Rivera.
"To me, it felt like the Civil Rights Movement was coming to wear I grew up, and it was all around this murder," said Richard Shpuntoff.
26 years later, Shpuntoff is bringing that moment in history back to life with his documentary "Julio of Jackson Heights."
"He was murdered by three young men from the neighborhood, who went out basically, in their words, to stretch out a gay man," Shpuntoff said. "They wanted to clean up the neighborhood — that was their point of view — and it went too far," said Shpuntoff.
The film made its debut at P.S. 69 as part of the Queens World Film Festival. It was the same school where Julio was beat up in the yard with a hammer, a wrench, and a knife.
"People wanted to blame the victim: what was he doing in the school yard? Who was this guy? Does he do drugs, which was a big risk for activists. But what they were saying was it doesn't matter. You don't murder someone for that," Shpuntoff said. "And one of the things I wanted to bring out is that he was a complex person like anyone else."
While Julio's story always interested Shpuntoff, it was the formation of the first Queens Pride Parade that inspired him to get started on the documentary.
"It was the first time you had a successful movement here in Queens where gay people were coming out and saying, "We want to be equals," the filmmaker said. "If one of us gets murdered, it's just like anyone getting murdered, because it was really something that was often brushed aside at that time."
The next screening is scheduled to be held March 26 at Union Docs in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.