By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.
“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” — Charles Bukowski
But what if the fire has been forgotten or was barely acknowledged when it happened? Those are just two of the burning questions answered in Robert L Camina’s absorbing and heartbreaking documentary, UpStairs Inferno, narrated by New York Times best-selling author, Christopher Rice.
Today the LGBT Community knows the last Sunday of June as Gay Pride Day, but in New Orleans 1973, it was just another “Beer Bust” at the UpStairs Lounge. The regulars had gathered after the local Metropolitan Community Church service; the integrated gay and transgender crowd was enjoying live piano music; and the red flocked wallpapered bar was a vibrant, loving home to its family of patrons.
Around 8pm, the bartender went to answer incessant buzzing from the building’s street level entrance; upon opening the UpStairs second story door, a blast of fire blew through igniting an inferno. The flames may have been extinguished in 15 minutes; but when all the smoke had cleared, 32 people were dead and dozens injured.
Until Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it was single biggest loss of life in New Orleans. Until 2016, it was “The Largest Gay Mass Murder in U.S. History.” So why has it gone so unnoticed and for so long?
Drawn from 20 interviews with survivors, historians, journalists, and witnesses, UpStairs Inferno is not just an emotional accounting of events, but an examination of the far reaching effects this tragedy has had on those involved. Producer/Director Robert L Camina also recounts one such effect that played out as recently as 2015 in the film’s gut wrenching epilogue.
The next screening of UpStairs Inferno will be in New York City at the Manhattan Film Festival on April 24th at 7pm with Q & A to follow.
UpStairs Inferno is also available to license for screening.
Narrated by Christopher Rice
Produced and Directed By Robert L. Camina
April 24th 7:00pm Manhattan Film Festival at Cinema Village TICKETS HERE
The off-Broadway musical, The View UpStairs inspired by the tragedy in 1973 continues at the Lynn Redgrave Theater through May 21st.