Gene Graham's "The Godfather of Disco" to be screened at PIGLFF

A Documentary about the Life, Times, and Career of Mel Cheren. To Be Screened at PIGLFF, The Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. July 14 @ 9:30 / Black Box at the Prince. July 16 @ 9:30 / Wilma Theater.

Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 22, 2007 --( Payback Industries is pleased to announce Gene Graham’s The Godfather of Disco as an official selection of the NewFest/New York LGBT Film Festival.

The film was first screened at the 25th Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, where it took home the 2007 Emerging Filmmaker Award. It has also met with continual positive feedback and praise, following the New York screening at NEWFEST, earlier this month:

According to Pulse of The Twin Cities’ Matt Sparber the documentary “offers a dazzling, propulsive look at a vibrant but doomed New York cultural explosion. It’s a mesmerizing overview of the rise and fall of '70s-era dance music.”

“The film serves as a great history lesson into the development of the New York City scene. One's disco and dance music education wouldn't be complete without it.”
—TimeOut NY

The NH Advocate’s Evan Brown raves—“Slick transitions, a groovy soundtrack and a wide range of interviews make this chronicle of Cheren and pals’ role in taking the music scene by storm a fun and informative romp through the far-out New York club scene in the days before Studio 54. Among those who lend their stories to the tale are Randy Jones, the Cowboy from the Village People, and Vince Montana, who co-wrote “Love is the Message.”

The Godfather of Disco is a feature-length documentary based on Mel Cheren’s powerful autobiography, My Life and the Paradise Garage: Keep On Dancin’.

Through a series of interviews with a who’s who of the dance music community, The Godfather of Disco follows the arc of Mel’s life to examine the early 70s musical and cultural currents that gave birth to disco; West End Records’ contribution to that scene; and the rise of Paradise Garage.

From that cultural heyday, the film then charts the onslaught of HIV/Aids, its impact on New York City, and Mel’s heroic efforts in the face of an epidemic through his work for Gay Men’s Health Crisis and 24hrs for Life/LIFEbeat.

Mel has been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale. And, rest assured, he still does it all today. The Godfather of Disco makes a compelling case for how one’s man’s musical vision and AIDS activism helped push gay sensibilities into the greater culture—and how our world is better for it.

Pioneer. Activist. Survivor. Mel Cheren is The Godfather of Disco.

The scheduled screenings are as follows:

July 14 @ 9:30 / Black Box at the Prince
July 16 @ 9:30 / Wilma Theater

Mel Cheren began his career in the music business in 1959 at ABC/Paramount Records, where he eventually became head of the label's Production Department. Some of the top artists released during his tenure include Ray Charles, Lloyd Price, Paul Anka, B.B. King,The Mamas and the Papas, Three Dog Night and Richard Harris. When the company moved its operations to Los Angeles in 1970, Cheren remained in New York and became Head of Production for Scepter Records.

Once there, his career really took off, as he spearheaded the effort to release 12-inch DJ records. He was also one of the original contributors to the first record pool for DJ’s, which went on to become the still successful For The Record Record Pool. Cheren convinced Scepter to release the first instrumental mix on the B-side of a 12-inch single with "We're On The Right Track" by Ultra High Frequency. This novel idea earned Scepter the 1974 Billboard Trendsetter Award and soon set the standard for an industry-wide practice.

In the summer of 1976 Cheren started his own record label, West End Records, with a former colleague from Scepter Records. West End quickly became one of the foremost producers of Dance Music in the late 1970’s. West End Records hit pay dirt with Karen Young’s single, "Hot Shot," which sold more than 800,000 copies. Undoubtedly, West End’s biggest hit and the song for which it is most famous is Taana Gardner’s “Heartbeat.” Selling close to a million copies, “Heartbeat” is one of the most successful 12-inch releases in record history. It has become an enduring classic, sampled more than 65 times, a favorite of the Hip-Hop generation and still played in clubs all around the world.

One of Mel Cheren’s lasting contributions to dance culture is the seminal role he played in the creation of one of the most influential clubs of all time – The Paradise Garage. He was the financial backer for the legendary club, which was owned and operated by his former partner, Michael Brody.

In the spring of 1979 Rolling Stone Magazine named Cheren one of “Disco’s Top Thirty.” And in a 1982 feature article in the trade magazine Dance Music Report he was dubbed “The Godfather of Disco,” a title still affectionately used by many to this day.

Cheren was at the height of his success when AIDS cast the beginning of a long shadow over the gay community. He attended some of the first meetings of concerned community. Those early meetings were the genesis of what developed into the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), the world’s first AIDS service organization. Cheren even gave the fledgling organization its first real home—his home: he donated his own brownstone on West 22nd Street to GMHC.

In 1987, he founded 24 Hours For Life, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing media and music professionals together for the purpose of producing events to raise funds for AIDS relief and education. With Cheren as President, Gladys Knight as its Honorary Chairperson and an original Keith Haring design for its logo, 24 Hours for Life sponsored many successful events and programs. Cheren’s AIDS organization extended its mission further in 1992 by becoming the fiscal sponsor of LIFEbeat, the Music Industry Fights AIDS.

In the summer of 2000, Mel Cheren's autobiography, MY LIFE AND THE PARADISE GARAGE: KEEP ON DANCIN', was published.

The Godfather of Disco marks Gene Graham’s directorial debut.

In the spring of 2006, Gene cut and co-produced writer/director Maurice Jamal’s second feature, Dirty Laundry. Shot and edited in just over six weeks, it went on to screen at 2006 editions of Urban World/Vibe, Frameline, and Outfest. At the American Black Film Festival this past summer, the movie won the Audience Award for Best U.S. Feature and Loretta Devine (Crash, Waiting To Exhale, Boston Public) won the Audience Award for Best Performance by an Actor. Code Black, a subsidiary of NBC Universal, has purchased the movie and it will hit US screens in the fall of 2007.

Gene and Maurice cut their teeth on The Ski Trip in 2004 (Gene’s first feature as editor and Maurice’s directorial debut). The movie had a strong film festival run throughout 2004, landing honors at the Seattle G&LFF and the Oakland International Black LGBT Film Festival. When Logo began airing the movie in August of 2005, it became the first black, gay movie ever to broadcast in the US. Logo continues to air the movie regularly.

“Gene Graham and Mel Cheren are two of the coolest cats I have had the pleasure of meeting through this festival. The film was very well received and Gene will definitely be a person to keep your eye on… Mel Cheren is not only a fountain of music knowledge; he is also a true humanitarian and I applaud all that he is. Thank you both.”
Bobby Marsden,
Festival Programmer, Minneapolis/St. Paul IFF
Founder, Fearless Filmmakers

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