It’s been a while since I have spoken with Wolfgang Busch, so I was not surprised to learn that he has kept busy doing what he does best – working on an epic documentary project. The last time I talked to him, I’d just received “Flow Affair.” I called him to tell him how much I enjoyed watching Javier Caylor, Aaron Enigma, Javier Ninja, and other floguing dance artists working out using fans, and flags. It gives me goosebumps to think about it.
Wolfgang is a two-time humanitarian award winner, motivational speaker, documentary filmmaker, and producer. He has lectured at many prestigious universities, Yale, NYU, Penn State, and AIDS organizations across the United States.
In 2007, he created Art From The Heart Films, an edutainment/docu-films producer that brings the spotlight and awareness to underserved artistic communities. Below he talks about his latest venture, how he became interested in the ball scene, and what’s next.
PrideIndex (PI): What are you up to right now?
Wolfgang Busch (WB): Right now, I am editing a new documentary about the New York City Rock Live Music scene during the 80s and 90s, including some of the influential G&L musicians from that time; Phoebe Legere, Jack Pavlik, Robert Urban and Cha Cha Fernandez to name a few. I had 1,000 bands on my file back in the days, preserved hundreds of press kits and original demo tapes. 25 years later I have interviewed more than 100 people from the scene who changed the musical landscape in New York City. This is a labor of love project and a huge ongoing work in progress. It keeps me out of trouble, now that I am officially retired according to Social Security.
My home & office at 761 6 avenue and 25 street in Manhattan. Five blocks from the Limelight.
During those two decades I was very involved in the Disco & Rock club scene and in preserving the NYC Rock Live Music culture and history. See blog for info: https://my90snyc.blogspot.com/
(PI): I heard you won the A List Award, tell me all about that? Do you have plans to continue work in this area?
(WB): The A-List Award committee was very impressed with my long list of accomplishments. The link takes you to what I founded and co-founded: https://wolfgangbusch.weebly.com/founder.html.
While most A-List Award recipients in their speeches talked about the millions of dollars they worked with, my speech was about the millions of people hearts’ I touched through my screenings and videos. Link to my awards page: https://wolfgangbusch.weebly.com/halloffame.html
My YouTube channels reached one million views alone and it allows me to continue and maintain my contributions and legacy. Link to my most viewed channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/ArtFromTheHeartFilms
(PI): How did you become familiar with the ball scene and why do you feel these stories were important to document?
(WB): Naturally I was very fascinated by the diverse music and entertainment scenes New York City was offering during the 1980s, coming from a small town in Germany. I used to go to the club Tracks on 19th street, which was a Black gay dance club playing House and Ballroom music. In 1987, on a Sunday night, I experienced a major Ball for the first time by the House of Xtravaganza and was totally amazed by it. Now I know I was blessed to see Dorian Corey, Pepper Labeija and Avis Pendavis battling for Grand Prize. They are the Pioneers of the Ballroom community and unfortunately, they have all passed away. I got to know Pepper Labeija quite well and visited him at home and in the hospital when he was diagnosed with diabetes, from which he later passed away from.
I remember thinking while I was at the Xtrava Ball; I would love to work with this community one day. Little did I know that 2 years later I was introduced to Mike Stone, the youngest gay Black club promoter, who was on my NY Promoters League committee to raise funds for the Gay Games in 1990. We became friends and I learned how much the Black community was discriminated against by the clubs in Manhattan. At the time, I was working at the Limelight and was hosting, promoting and booking rock and dance acts Friday nights, before the Rock & Roll Church on Sundays, Communion on Tuesdays and Disco 2000 on Wednesdays.
The activist that I was, I wanted to help Mike Stone to find a nice club, where he can have his parties and together we did parties at the club Underground on Broadway and 17 th street. Mike Stone introduced me to Kevin Omni, a gay Black club promoter, host and MC, who was also a Ballroom historian and a Pioneer. Naturally Kevin and I made this lifetime connection and he is today one of my mentors and best friends.
Kevin introduced me to the Ballroom community and the issues the Ballroom historians and Icons had with the film “Paris is Burning.” I learned how exploitative Jennie Livingston’s film really was and how it affected the Ballroom community first hand. After I watched PIB, I was thinking that, I wouldn’t want to be in this film, because it represented the community as thieves, prostitutes and drug users. Yes, the voguing was fun and individual stories are educational. But in the long run and historically, PIB is a very damaging film for the Ballroom community, because, to this day, society still points the finger at them and rejects and is disenfranchising the Ballroom community. As a result to this day, they haven’t been able to empower themselves and their natural artistic progression is manipulated and corrupted by outside forces. It started with “Paris is Burning,” than AIDS agencies and now it is Network TV and individuals from our own community exploiting the Ballroom community. Link to “Paris is Burning the Dark Side” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkAUulnxv8Q. Picketing Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), Its Latex Ball and Executive Director Marjorie Hill: https://studio.youtube.com/video/7wW0eHm5ndU
None of those creative Ball kids can actually make a living doing what they do and it is ironic, because they influenced the biggest stars and fashion designers on the planet for decades now. Link to Bazaar Fashion designer Ross Infiniti: https://studio.youtube.com/video/39CsZMYqBRg/edit
It is remarkable and very upsetting how all this is still affecting the Ball community to this day. For those reasons, Kevin Omni, a Ballroom Historian and Hall of Famer, asked me if I wanted to make a follow up to Paris is Burning, which became “How Do I Look,” my first feature film.
My motivation was at that point, ok, here we go again, the Black community was exploited by a white lesbian, now as a white gay man I would like to make it up to the gay Black community for what Jennie Livingston did to them. I felt a responsibility. Kevin and I organized meetings with the Pioneers, Icons and Historians to tell me what they wanted “How Do I Look” to be. My policy was, nobody signs the agreement until they saw the film, approved it and wanted to be in the film. As you know this is not how you make a film, but I gave the community the option; if you don’t like the film, you don’t have to sign the agreement. My lawyer thought I was crazy.
(PI): I leant my DVD copies of “How Do I Look” and “Flow Affair” but unfortunately that “friend” never returned them to me. Where can I find these videos online?
(WB): I hear that a lot, people don’t return the DVD, I guess it’s flattering.
(PI): Are there plans to show these documentaries on streaming services such as Revry, DEEKO, Here TV, etc?
(WB): People can purchase “How Do I Look” and “Flow Affair,” which is released and distributed exclusively by my company Art From The Heart Films on Vimeo and Amazon and soon on the Roku TV platform with access to a lot more videos. Downloads: https://vimeo.com/user30019913/vod_pages
“How Do I Look” is in 100 university libraries and is used for thesis, education and outreach. We wanted How Do I Look to be a balance to PIB and we achieved that goal. It was never about money, it was a labor of love production right from the start. Thesis & Lecture link: https://www.howdoilooknyc.org/thesis.html
Universities & Colleges, Logo by Alejandro Montoja
From the How Do I Look proceeds I produced the First International Ballroom Convention in 2014 in Harlem, I sponsor categories at Balls on a regular basis and I make donations to the Kevin Omni Burrus Burial Fund.
My artistic contributions are the invention of a new dance called “Floguing.”
I brought the Ballroom voguing community together with the Flagging community at The Door Youth organization downtown Manhattan and I also created the FloKaz Dance Troup. www.FlowAffair.weebly.com
(PI): Do you have plans to produce new documentaries about the ball scene? Why or Why not?
(WB): I feel that this whole Ballroom thing is over exposed now. I have over 10 years of Ball footage and could easily make a How Do I Look 2. Even though I have many Pioneers and Icons on tape that are no longer alive, they could teach the world a lesson or two today, but right now I am just not feeling it, because I feel right now is not the time for that.
(PI): One complaint I’ve heard with regards to “Paris Is Burning,” “Leave It On The Floor” and “Pose” is that these shows heavily focus on the negative stories in the ball scene. What do you have to say about?
(WB): The negativity is there, but people don’t put it in perspective. On Wall Street you have drug use, prostitution and much bigger thieves, more than the Ball community can ever be. My point is negativity is in all the communities. It is about how it is presented. The negativity is pushed to the front, because this is a Black community and society wants to keep it in their place. There is no better way to do this then by exploiting a community the way Paris is Burning did.
The other side always tells me how influential PIP was and how much it meant to them etc. My response is, AT WHAT COST. The Ballroom community is today a disenfranchised, underserved, underfunded and self destructive artistic community, exploited by the AIDS agencies and corporations.
(PI): What’s next for you?
(WB): Next is to complete my Roku channels; Art From The Heart Films and New York New Rock TV.
The goal is to use the Roku TV platform to raise funds to preserve and maintain our oral & performance culture and history for future generations to enjoy and to learn from. www.WolfgangBusch.weebly.com