The Organist

: Documentary Short
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production


The longtime organist at San Francisco’s iconic Castro Theatre — an underrecognized LGBTQ artist at the end of his career — attempts to secure his legacy.


David Hegarty, the longtime organist at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre, is an underrecognized patriarch of cinema and gay life. Amid a city in transition, David attempts to secure his legacy: bringing to the Castro an ambitious, controversial new organ, the largest of its kind in the world.


Twenty years ago, when I was in college, I visited San Francisco where my brother (a longtime SF resident) took me to see a movie at the Castro Theatre as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. This was my first experience in a palace-era theater, and my first film festival. The atmosphere was electric in the packed house, beginning with a performance by David on the organ, and ending with thunderous cheers and applause. It was a singular experience during an impressionable time, and it’s one that’s never left me; the pre-show musical ritual at the Castro connects moviegoers to the theatricality of the experience in a matchless way. Through this documentary, I’m eager to share that feeling I had years ago as an impressionable film student sitting among a packed house at the Castro, especially at a time when movie theaters of all stripes are on the decline. Thematically, my past work has included a feature documentary about an ambitious outsider (PEACE OFFICER) and a collection of short, lyrical portrait documentaries (64 so far, from the series STATES OF AMERICA and BEEHIVE STORIES), which portray everyday (often older) people describing their connection to a place. THE ORGANIST, a portrait of a magical instrument and its passionate champion, set in a breathtaking space, continues and builds upon this earlier work. The film will be both an intimate story of gay, elderly life, and a cinematic rendering of artistic expression. The film will mix sit-down interviews with observational footage, mostly locked down, of David at work in the theater and his home. We’ll hear from Bay Area locals, film professionals, and friends and colleagues of David’s who will describe how David’s art has impacted their moviegoing experience and influenced their love of cinema. Vérité footage will help convey the stakes and timeliness of our subject: we’ll show David as he is forced to move out of his San Francisco home of 32 years, and as his efforts to secure the new organ stall and restart. We’ll also make use of archival materials showing the Castro neighborhood and theater through the years to frame this steady landmark and its continued prominence as social and economic changes swirl around it. Above all, we’ll foreground David’s performances with lyricism and cinematic flare, in order to capture the magic of both the organ and its passionate champion. The immaculate visual style we’re employing is reminiscent of Ben Niles’ NOTE BY NOTE – THE MAKING OF STEINWAY L1037 or Gary Hustwit’s design trilogy. SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION, another documentary about a soft-spoken elderly keyboardist who has prioritized his craft over the spotlight, is a good tonal reference in its quiet reverence for an unassuming master and his instrument. THE ORGANIST will also be similar in tone and scope to the documentaries BILL CUNNINGHAM: NEW YORK, CITY OF GOLD, and IRIS; these films are all portraits of veteran artists that intimately capture their subjects’ passion and process, as well as the unifying power of their work.


Brad Barber - Director/Producer/Director of Photography
Named to Variety’s “10 Documakers to Watch” in 2015, Brad Barber is an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker. His feature directing debut, PEACE OFFICER, which he directed, produced, and shot with Scott Christopherson, aired on Independent Lens in 2016, after winning the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival, the Human Rights Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and the David Carr Award for Truth in Non-Fiction Filmmaking at the Montclair Film Festival, among other festival honors. PEACE OFFICER went on to a nationwide theatrical release, resulting in multiple Cinema Eye Honors recognitions. In 2009 Brad was nominated for an Emmy for his work as an editor on the HBO documentary RESOLVED, for which he also served as an associate producer and cinematographer. He has won multiple regional Emmys for his public television short documentary series BEEHIVE STORIES, and is a recipient of the AFI Docs/NBC Universal Impact Grant for social outreach. He has also served as a Jury Member for the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and on selection committees for the International Documentary Association Awards and the Slamdance Film Festival. Brad received an MFA in Cinema-Television Production from USC. He is currently an associate professor of nonfiction film at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Emma D. Miller - Producer
Emma D. Miller is a documentary filmmaker and outreach strategist based in Los Angeles. She is currently directing a short documentary set in Death Valley and recently served as head of development for Edgeline Films, a production company focused on prestige nonfiction, led by the team behind 2016’s WEINER, recipient of Sundance’s U.S. Grand Jury Prize. She was associate producer of the Oscar-nominated short documentary KNIFE SKILLS, which was acquired by The New Yorker/Condé Nast Entertainment; in her role, she spearheaded outreach including the film’s impact campaign, distribution, and awards strategy. She was also associate producer of the Sundance award-winning feature documentary UNREST, which was broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens and shortlisted for an Academy Award. Previously, Emma was programming manager at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina, where she oversaw all submissions to the international festival and managed the film selection process. She has screened films for Full Frame, the Los Angeles Film Festival, Camden International Film Festival, and the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media Studies at Johns Hopkins University.


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