10 Short Films Tell One Story at Pregones Theater Screening

By Patrick Wall on May 2, 2012 9:28am 

Pregones Theater at 575 Walton Avenue will host a screening called "Spooking" at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2.
Pregones Theater at 575 Walton Avenue will host a screening called "Spooking" at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

CONCOURSE — A streetwise runaway. A pop art icon. A fleeting romance sparked in a 1980s nightclub.

The student auteurs whose short films will be screened and judged at Pregones Theater this evening had rich material to work with when shooting scenes from the life of Juan Rivera, or Juanito Xtravaganza, the late lover of famed artist Keith Haring.

The 10 short films in the screening, called “Spooking,” feature footage shot last year by New York University film students at Pregones Theater, where resident actors performed scenes from Rivera’s life and his romance with Haring.

Students at Purchase College-SUNY then chose the material they liked best and edited it into six- to eight-minute movies, each with its own slant.

A panel of five judges will view the films Wednesday and select their favorite. The winning film will be used to promote an upcoming play at Pregones based on Rivera’s life, and the winning filmmakers will get to work on an independent film to be shot in the Bronx later this month.

“This is a real New York Latino story,” said Jorge Merced, Pregones’ associate artistic director, who is producing the play about Rivera and who organized the film competition.

“It’s one that people should know.”

Rivera, the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, fled in the 1970s from New Haven, Connecticut to the streets of New York City, where he became immersed in the gay black and Latino youth culture and took on the drag name, Juanito Xtravaganza.

In the mid-80s, he met Haring at a disco and the two became lovers until Haring’s death in 1990, according to “Hard Tails,” a book about Rivera and his relationship with Haring, by Fordham University professor Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé.

Later, when art historians began to revisit Haring’s work, which was famously inspired by street art and culture, Rivera was among those who claimed their influence on Haring was overlooked.

“These muses,” said Merced, “remained completely detached from most of the success that Haring received.”

Merced hopes his play, “Neon Baby,” which is based partly on “Hard Tails,” will help restore Rivera, who died last year, to his rightful place in the history of an influential era in New York.

“Sometimes we have to correct history,” said Merced. “Sometimes that is our task.”

The free screenings start at 7:30 p.m. at Pregones Theater, located at 575 Walton Avenue in The Bronx.

An actor portrays Juan Rivera, or Juanito Xtravaganza, in footage featured in the films at Wednesday's screening.
An actor portrays Juan Rivera, or Juanito Xtravaganza, in footage featured in the films at Wednesday's screening.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

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