JD Disalvatore/Kane 9 Photography

Remembering Lesbian Filmmaker JD Disalvatore: ‘Fearless, Funny And Flirty—And Just Downright Fascinating’

The award-winning producer of "Shelter" was known as much for her philanthropy as her filmmaking.

We lost an amazing talent and beloved advocate when director and producer JD Disalvatore died last week at the age of 51, succumbing to a lengthy battle against breast cancer.

Born in Massachusetts and raised in Florida, Disalvatore moved to L.A. after graduating from Boston University. Her early film work included visual affects on The X-Files and the disaster movies Armageddon and Dante’s Peak. In the early 2000s, she filmed her own short, Gay Propaganda, which queered films like Casablanca, Reservoir Dogs, and Goodfellas (in which she also made a cameo).

Shelter

She went on to work on numerous LBGT-themed films, including Eating Out 2, Elena Undone and Shelter, which frequently lands on Best LGBT Films lists and won a GLAAD Media Award.

Disalvatore was a fixture in L.A.’s LGBT community, serving as a festival manager for Outfest and on the board for the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

John Shearer/WireImage for Indie PR

She also documented LGBT events like the Dinah Shore weekend and volunteered for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Frontiers Foundation, and the Point Foundation.
 

 
“For me, JD’s legacy is really about how to live big,” says Marina Rice Bader, who is on Outfest’s board of directors and worked with Disalvatore on Elena Undone.

“How to do what matters. How to speak up and speak out, whether on LGBTQ rights or saving discarded animals, with such passion and conviction,” Bader adds. “She was about living life to the fullest, and I honestly think she lived a couple of lifetimes’ worth during her short time with us. She was fearless and funny and flirty and just downright fascinating.”

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Diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer five years ago, Disalvatore dedicated her remaining years to rescuing and rehabilitating shelter pets. And she worked hard to build community for the disenfranchised, human or animal: In 2015, her #4Days4Life campaign helped to place 70 dogs and cats in foster homes over the 4th of July weekend, when shelters are filled to capacity. (The forthcoming documentary, How To Save a Dog, will document the legacy she leaves behind.)

JD Disalvatore inspired love and admiration: Days after her initial diagnosis, friends and fans launched an IndieGoGo campaign to provide financial support during chemotherapy. (It generated more than $35,000.)

Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage for GLAAD

“Throughout the years she has helped many of us with advice and guidance,” wrote Elliot London, who started the fundraiser. “There probably isn’t a single person in the community that hasn’t been affected by her whether they are aware of it or not. Her passion for our film community helped countless others in their effort to create great cinema.”

While a memorial is still being planned, donations can be made in Disalvatore’s memory to Outfest, Point Foundation and the East Valley Animal Shelter in Van Nuys.

Trish Bendix is a Los Angeles-based writer.
@trishbendix