I met Don Bachardy in 1992 while I was attending film school in Los Angeles. Possibly a year later, he invited Julia Scott and I to dinner at his house in the Santa Monica canyon (Julia would later become one of the producers of the film). I remember being quite impressed by the wonderful view from the terrace and all the art Chris and Don collected over the years. The house had such a great atmosphere and had the simple taste of people who didn't need to make a statement about their lives. It was simple, comfortable and surrounded by natural beauty.
Being born and raised in Italy, I was not familiar with Chris and Don's personal story. I knew that "Chris" was Christopher Isherwood, the famous British writer of Goodbye to Berlin and A Single Man, both of which I read before coming to the States, but I knew very little about their lives together. Chris died in 1986. That night, after dinner, Don brought out an old projector and two large 16mm reels containing the film he and Chris shot in the 1950s while traveling around the world. The reels had been stored for years in a cabinet in his bedroom facing the ocean. I did not have much of an expectation about the film but when the projector started rolling, I quickly realized the enormity of what I was watching.
The pristine quality of the images, the many famous people, writers and actors, who appeared in it, plus Chris and Don looking so young and so far apart in age (at the time, Chris was 50 and Don was 18 -- although he looked much younger!), made a profound impression on me. I realized later how generous Don was to share such a treasure trove with me -- a young filmmaker who he just recently met -- but, as typical of him, he didn't make a big deal of it. This, along with Don's incredible talent as a raconteur, was the inspiration for our documentary.
But it took a few more years before I would really commit to bringing Chris and Don's life story to fruition. Tina Mascara, a filmmaker in her own right, encouraged me to make the film by putting it on the credit cards (following the beaten path of many other filmmakers). We joined creative forces and jumped in with the singular vision of bringing their story to life. It was a major test for us because Tina and I just started dating and we were now filming together, working together every day. In the end, as for Chris and Don, love made us overcome all the obstacles. Tina shared co-director credit with me, and would later become my wife.
What interested us the most in making the film was their relationship and how they managed to stay together for over 30 years. It was a relationship, which was extraordinary in so many ways because of their age difference, because they were both artists, and because they were two men in love who never hid the fact they were gay, at a time, the 1950s, when this was totally unheard of and, certainly, not accepted by the large majority of people.
Chris and Don: A Love Story was released theatrically in 2008. It became quickly a critical success and was enjoyed by large crowds of viewers, gay and straight, men and women, with no difference.
Chris & Don: A Love Story is now available for viewing on SundanceNOW's Doc Club as part of its March "Unforgettable" programming. You can find more information here.