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Film and TV

Paris is Burning is being rereleased with a full hour of unseen footage

Reiss Smith November 18, 2019
Willi Ninja voguing

Paris is Burning will be rereleased with an hour of new footage. (Criterion Collection)

Paris is Burning – the seminal documentary which introduced shade and reading to the cultural lexicon – will be rereleased with an hour of previously unseen material.

Ahead of the film’s 30th anniversary, a newly remastered cut will arrive on Blu-ray with new footage and other additional content.

Filmed over seven years, Paris is Burning follows the queer men and trans women of colour who illuminated the ballroom scene with shade, fashion and fierce voguing.

It flits between glittering ballroom scenes and hard-hitting interviews, revealing how for the QPOC community, poverty, oppression and ostracisation were (and are) everyday realities.

The film also touches upon the violence faced by trans women of colour, an epidemic which continues to this day. One of its stars, Venus Xtravaganza, was killed during the film’s production, and her murder remains unsolved.

Re-release includes newly-filmed content.

Director Jennie Livingston oversaw the digital remastering that makes up the bulk of the new Blu-ray release.

She appears on the disc in a new conversation with filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris, and stars of the film Sol Pendavis and Freddie Pendavis.

A 1991 episode of The Joan Rivers Show featuring Livingston, Freddie Pendavis and ballroom legends Dorian Corey, Pepper LaBeija and Willi Ninja will also be included.

Paris Is Burning‘s re-released comes almost 30 years after its theatrical debut, at a time when ballroom culture has been catapulted to an even larger stage by shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race and Pose.

While the film is often cited as required watching for the queer community, Livingston – a white, middle-class genderqueer lesbian – has often been accused of profiting off its subjects.

Paris is Burning cast sued filmmakers.

In 1993, a number of the performers reportedly sued for a share of the profits. They dropped the claims after lawyers confirmed that they had signed release forms, but producers went on to distribute $55,000 among 13 of the cast.

Speaking to i-d as the remastering was shown in theatres this summer, Livingston said that she hoped the renewed buzz around the documentary would prompt “constructive” conversations.

“If they think it’s a good film and it’s a film that did good, you know… Let’s parse how problematic it is to make any film, let’s parse that in all of its complexity,” she said.

“The truth is, there was nothing deceptive in the making of the film. If it feels unfair that people in the film didn’t get paid, well, that’s kind of how every documentary is. We did pay people something, because we said we would. We made a sale, we took some of the money and we gave it to people in the film.

“The idea that I got rich and they didn’t? Well, first of all, I didn’t get rich. And second of all, you do want filmmakers to make some money. Filmmakers can’t exist if we don’t get paid at some point.”

Paris is Burning will be rereleased on February 25, 2020, and is available to stream on Netflix.

More: Jennie Livingston, Paris is Burning, pose, RuPaul's Drag Race

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