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Epstein, Rob (b. 1955)  
 
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In 2000, the documentary Paragraph 175 was released, which Epstein and Friedman again produced and directed. The title of the documentary refers to the national German law prohibiting sex between men incorporated into the German penal code in 1871. Some 60 years later, when the Nazis rose to power, it was expanded to punish a broad range of "lewd and lascivious" behavior between men.

Historian Klaus Müller, a project director for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., initiated the documentary; he had been researching the persecution of homosexuals under Germany's Third Reich. Müller also serves as an interviewer in the film.

Sponsor Message.

Incorporating new and archival film, family photographs, and narration by the actor Rupert Everett, Paragraph 175 begins in the pre-Nazi era of the Weimar Republic when German gay men and women lived relatively open lives and Berlin was known as the center of homosexual life in Europe.

However, many conservative leaders, including those within the burgeoning Nazi party, regarded the Weimar Republic's tolerance of homosexuality as a sign of Germany's escalating decadence and dishonor.

Consequently, between 1933, when Hitler assumed power, and 1945, with the dissolution of the Nazi government, approximately 100,000 men were arrested for homosexuality under Paragraph 175. About one-half of those men were sentenced by the courts and spent time in regular prisons; additionally, 5,000 to 15,000 were sent directly to concentration camps. Once in the camps, official records suggest, homosexual men had extremely high death rates due to overwork, starvation, physical brutality, or outright murder.

At the end of World War II, only about 4,000 homosexual prisoners in the camps had survived. Six of those survivors appear in the documentary and tell their stories of gay life under Nazi rule. A Jewish lesbian who escaped to England with the help of her lover is also interviewed in the film.

Paragraph 175 had its U.S. premier at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded the Documentary Jury Prize for directing. It received its European premiere at the 2000 Berlin International Film Festival and won the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Award for "uncovering amazing stories of courage buried by history."

In 2010, Epstein and Friedman released their first scripted full-length feature, Howl, which they co-wrote, produced, and directed.

Shot in only fourteen days, Howl explores the life of the American poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) and the creation of his visionary epic poem by the same name. James Franco stars as Ginsberg, with Aaron Tveit as his lover, Peter Orlovsky (1933-2010).

Epstein and Friedman utilize a multi-layered, non-linear narrative technique that echoes the collage style Ginsberg himself employed in the poem.

The film interweaves five distinct narrative threads, or time frames: 1) a re-imagined interview Ginsberg gave to a Time magazine reporter that was never published about the emotional and artistic process that led to the creation of the poem; 2) flashbacks from Ginsberg's early life; 3) his triumphant first public performance of the poem on October 7, 1955 at the Six Gallery, a small art gallery in San Francisco; 4) the infamous 1957 obscenity trial of the poem, in which a San Francisco prosecutor charged that it contained "filth, vulgar, obscene, and disgusting language," most notably for its frank depictions of homosexuality; and 5) sections of the poem itself, as animated by the graphic novelist and Ginsberg collaborator Eric Drooker.

Although it received mixed reviews, David Edelstein, the film critic for New York magazine, called Howl, "an exhilarating tribute from one form (cinema) to another (poetry). . . . You could call it a deconstruction except that sounds too formal. It's a celebration, an analysis, a critical essay, an ode."

The film premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival where it was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize. It later received the 2010 Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review.

Epstein has also produced and directed works specifically for television, often in collaboration with Friedman, including an episode for the 10-part mini-series Gold Rush (2006) and the documentary Sex in '69: The Sexual Revolution in America (2009) for The History Channel; seven episodes for the prime-time series Crime & Punishment (2002-2004) for NBC; the documentary special Xtreme: Sports To Die For (1999) for HBO's America Undercover and several segments for HBO's Real Sex (1996-1998); three short erotic films for the Playboy Channel in 1990; and assorted news segments for ABC, PBS, and MSNBC.

In addition to his filmmaking career, Epstein is a professor at California College of the Arts, in Oakland, California, where he also serves as chair of the Film Program. He has also been a visiting professor at the Graduate Film Program at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. He currently serves on the board of the Yerba Buena Center of the Arts in San Francisco.

Epstein is a member of the Directors Guild of America, and of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where he currently serves on the Board of Governors and is chair of the documentary branch.

Craig Kaczorowski

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    Bibliography
   

Anderson, Melissa. "Pioneering Coming Out Doc Word Is Out at Anthology." The Village Voice (January 26, 2010).

Duralde, Alonso. "The Movieline Interview: The Times of Harvey Milk's Rob Epstein on Docs, Reality TV, and Keeping Harvey Alive on Film." Movieline (March 22, 2011): http://www.movieline.com/2011/03/the-times-of-harvey-milks-rob-epstein-on-docs-reality-tv-and-keeping-harvey-alive-on-film.php?page=all

Edelstein, David. "Howl is an Exhilarating Trip Back in Time." New York (September 27, 2010).

Levy, Emanuel. "Pride and Prejudice." The Advocate (April 2, 1996): 68-70. Lim, Dennis. "Gay Identity Refracted in Multiple Voices." New York Times (January 24, 2010): C12.

Shales, Tom. "Celluloid Closet: HBO's Breath of Fresh Air." Washington Post (January 30, 1996): D1.

Tomlin, Lily. "Inside the Celluloid Closet: Filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman Bring to the Screen a Collection of Images of Gays and Lesbians on Celluloid in a Groundbreaking Documentary." The Advocate (March 19, 1996): 44-52.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Kaczorowski, Craig  
    Entry Title: Epstein, Rob  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2011  
    Date Last Updated July 6, 2011  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/epstein_rob.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2011 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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