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INTERVIEW WITH BEVERLY PETERSON
THE ANDRE SHOW
Series curator Kathy High conducted this telephone interview with Beverly Peterson in May, 1997.
What is some of the background as to how you met Andre? You had done a project prior to this one that set the groundwork for moving onto this. What was that project about, and
how did you get involved with Andre's family and his mother?
And grandmother and father . . .
Originally, I was making video letters for homeless mothers with AIDS to leave as a legacy for their kids. I got very close to a lot of the women and . . .
Pretty much. I had had contact with Project Hospitality, so I was familiar with their operation. I had done funding videos for them and I had always wanted very badly to do a project about the clients. So, I offered to do the video letters, and I thought that that would be a nice way to get to know everyone. More than that, I really wanted to do it. I felt it was important. So as I was doing that and I got to know everyone closely, I would hang out with them. I'd go on their activities with them, and I would go to their homes. I'd watch soaps with them. I got really close. I got closest with Andre and Vilma. When his mom went into rehab, that was when I stepped in and said that I would just love to take him into my home on weekends, and bring him home.
For Andre, that was a door opening. I wasn't even aware how powerful that was, but that was the door that opened for him. I can remember -- I think it was the second weekend he was with us -- I remember I had woken up early, and we were watching TV. Andre was sitting there watching the television with us. It was some cartoon or something, and he looked at us, and it was one of those family moments where you just go, "God, that looks like a family." He looked and me and he said, "Oh, you guys don't have kids, do you? You don't have any kids." And we said, "No," and he goes, "Well, you know, you'd be good with kids. Maybe you should think about having kids." I was like, ooooh. That is where he came from.
Making the tape was like the process that we lived through. Most of the time I was cutting at three o'clock in the morning. I'd wake up in the middle of the night and just go downstairs and start to cut. People would say to me, "How could you do that? How could you adopt a child like that?" And for me, it wasn't that kind of process, but for [my husband] Farrell it was. I think for the viewers -- for most people who see this tape -- they're sitting there. They're always asking me, "Why did you do it?" And they watch Farrell go through this process, and I felt that to lead you through this process, for it to be real, you had to see it. You had to see what he was going through. I really felt that strongly.
There weren't any struggles. Andre was funny. It didn't matter what side of the camera he was on, because he was always in control of it. That's why his face is always in the camera. It was as if he were directing from the other side. Actually that's the better footage, because when Andre is behind the camera, he's so enamored of what he's saying and how he's performing from behind the camera, that he never noticed the fact that it wasn't focused. There was nothing in the frame, and there was just this sound. He was always performing when the camera was on. He just really loved . . . He understood it. It was as if he had some understanding of what the camera was, and what it could do, and where the frame was. Even though he was in front of the camera, he knew the framing was weird.
Yes, they were done after Andre died.
I knew the film in my head already. I knew everybody so well. I knew what they were going to say. I wasn't dictating it, but I knew them, and I knew where they would come in. I knew what they had to offer. I knew where their pain was, because I had spoken to them. I stayed in touch with everyone. For instance, Robert is talking about the kids, and how they beat up on him, and how horrible they were to him. For him I knew that there was this incredible bond that he had with Andre. I knew that for him it was all unfathomable. He didn't understand what had happened. But he had also just seen SANDRA'S WEB on HBO, and he didn't know Andre had AIDS. We weren't allowed by law to tell people, unless Andre had let us, and Andre was terrified that he'd lose Robert as a friend, so Robert only just found out that his friend had AIDS. So it was an extremely emotional moment for him anyway.
I would go to places with them that I knew were their spots with Andre, so that everybody would be very opened up, but the interviews were really short. They were kept really, really short. Once I knew I had what I needed, and that that was really as far as that child was going to go, that was it. It was so exhausting to get . . . I think the interview with Robert was an hour or something like that, and it was so exhausting for all of us emotionally to get to that moment, to get to that spot. For adults to go, like when Vilma would have to go into that place that you go to for an interview -- you know, that place where everything is sort of almost epiphanal -- that's different. But for a child, you don't want to . . . I don't know. It's just so much more sensitive.
Yes, and all these kids still have this intense relationship with me and Farrell. It's sweet, so sweet.
I was sleeping.
Oh, actually in the morning they woke up and kept on taping. They interviewed me and Farrell. It was really sweet. They played the whole thing for us, and then they played it in their group, and they played it for friends, and Andre used to watch it all the time. But I don't think they saw it, or in Andre's case I don't think he saw it, the same way that I saw it. I saw those as moments that I used for the film. They saw it as fun that they were having in front of the camera. I saw them expressing this incredible pain.
It began with SANDRA'S WEB, which I made . . . There was originally one long tape that was Sandra's story, another woman's story, and Vilma's story with Andre. It went as far as Andre being adopted by me and Farrell. A lot of the stuff that came before that I actually added, but anything after that was new. When I began that project, that was when I started cutting at three o'clock in the morning, or two o'clock in the morning . . . I could spend weeks sometimes sitting at the cutting machine, stopping to eat and take a nap or something. So, that was the process throughout the whole thing.
The first film had been finished before his mother died. I made a decision early on that I was not going to . . . the video obviously didn't take main priority in my life. Andre was the main priority, and because videotaping was something that was kind of intense for him, it didn't happen all that often. I didn't have to document every day, 24 hours, this and that. I would have -- because of who he is and because of his drawings and because of the intensity, there was always a moment that was just amazing on video. But I didn't have to videotape everything, because I was on the inside. I was there. If I needed a moment, I could capture that moment rather than . . . I mean the thing with the red face, he did that all the time. I only filmed it once. So it wasn't a family of videotaping. The main part of our family, of our relationship, wasn't the videotape. It was just a secondary thing. It was like our idea of home movies was a red face tape, because that's what he did.
Not yet, no. Actually, I'm anxious to do that. I haven't done that yet. I sent it to GMHC [Gay Men's Health Crisis] early on, but I haven't had a chance to really do anything yet.
Especially if you consider that Freddy [Andre's father] represents what everybody is afraid of, and Vilma gave birth to a child with AIDS. It's almost like they are the walking stereotypes, in a way. So it was fun to make them really human.
I guess the thing that I really like is that for . . . I feel like I kept -- this sounds so corny -- but I feel like I kept this promise to about 80 people up in heaven. I can't tell you when you guys came through and helped me out . . . for like a week I walked around with this tremendous weight off my shoulders because I had almost given up finishing it. I can remember Andre sitting there and talking about dying and what is life about and what did he accomplish. And I said, "You know, you can touch people. You know how to touch people's hearts." And he knew that's what the film was about and that's what it was for. He was so proud. He was really, really proud of it. So, I just wish he was here to enjoy this part because this is the part . . . This is what he did. You know, this is who he is. He was a filmmaker. He was not a little boy.
Oh, I hope so.
Oh, and his drawings. My God. His drawings. I mean, it's as if he's . . . One of the things I love about his drawings is that he speaks through those as loudly as he spoke to us. He just really speaks.
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