Home » Frank Jaffe, Founder of Altered Innocence

Frank Jaffe, Founder of Altered Innocence

Business Profile

by Lawrence Ferber
Frank Jaffe (Photo Luka Fisher)

I’ve always been into film and used to put my movie tickets in a scrapbook as a kid, but in high school I made the leap into foreign and indie films.

Frank Jaffe (Photo by Luka Fisher)

Altered Innocence is a company that provides restored hi-def Blu-ray and digital releases of queer, sexy, subversive and artful films.

It may seem like every movie ever made is available on streaming services these days, but the reality is quite the opposite. Many titles haven’t seen the light of a projector, home entertainment player, or LED screen for decades, while others get yanked without warning, as if they never existed, and some never see a release at all beyond screenings on the film festival circuit.

With this in mind, Frank Jaffe founded his distribution company Altered Innocence (alteredinnocence.net) in 2015 to give proper, restored, high-definition Blu-ray and digital releases to queer, sexy, subversive, and artful films that might otherwise languish in limbo. Releasing between 12-14 titles a year, he’s given new life to long unseen works, including Hidden Pleasures (1977); Confessions of a Congressman (1978); French director Patrice Chéreau’s transgressive, Genet-esque tale of a teen who falls for an older hustler, The Wounded Man (1983); André Téchiné’s iconic queer coming-of-age drama Wild Reeds (1994); and Saturday Night at the Baths (1975), set at legendary NYC gay bathhouse, the Continental Baths (where Bette Midler and Barry Manilow used to perform).

Saturday Night at the Baths

Saturday Night at the Baths

Born in Allentown, PA and having earned a degree in fashion merchandising at Florida State University, Jaffe went on to work for Los Angeles’ Outfest and long-running indie distributor Strand Releasing (whose cofounder, Marcus Hu, is openly gay) before founding Altered Innocence in 2015. Via Zoom with PASSPORT, the boyishly charming, opinionated, and good-humored East Hollywood resident discussed his company, travel to film festivals around the world, advice for those considering a festival binge, and his desire to bring us a lost early 1990s movie starring a full front nude Leonardo DiCaprio in a queer role!

How did you get into the kind of edgy, queer and international films that Altered Innocence is known for?
I’ve always been into film and used to put my movie tickets in a scrapbook as a kid, but in high school I made the leap into foreign and indie films. I think a lot of that was thanks to John Waters, not only for his cinema but the series on Here! TV called “John Waters Presents Movies That Will Corrupt You” that featured titles like Criminal Lovers, Pink Narcissus, and Freeway. I think half those titles were from Strand Releasing, so I quickly understood that Strand was doing these edgy, transgressive queer films which I maybe wanted to work on someday. I also did a gay and lesbian film fest while in college and that was super fun, and I got to `intern at Here!TV and Strand.

What was the best advice that Strand’s Marcus Hu gave you?
Strand in general is a survivor, and it’s because they’re cost conscious. They refuse to spend money willy-nilly, and determine what’s best for a movie and how to get it out with the least cost to the audience that would most enjoy it. We do see overspending in this industry, and the glitz and glamor and parties just isn’t sustainable.

When did you say to yourself, “I need to start my own company?”
I think it was Concrete Night and my frustration that I knew nobody else would release it. It’s too unique, and I really wanted a Blu-ray of it! I’m a big Blu-ray nerd and enthusiast and I would cry if it only got a DVD or VOD release, because even in Finland it only got a DVD release! The only way you can get a Blu-ray of Concrete Night is from me.

Concrete Night (Photo by Ville Tanttu)

Concrete Night (Photo by Ville Tanttu)

Which movie really put Altered Innocence on the map?
Knife + Heart. I worked on Yann’s 2013 feature You and the Night at Strand, it was my baby there. I fell in love with that movie so hard and was already very familiar with the director and we are very good friends. It’s one of the best films and mixes everything: the queer genre, slasher genre, and the retro genre, which is really cool.

Félix Maritaud, Pierre Emö, and Jérémy Benkemoun in Knife + Heart (Photo by Ville Tanttu)

Félix Maritaud, Pierre Emö, and Jérémy Benkemoun in Knife + Heart (Photo by Ville Tanttu)

Which title made the most money so far?
Shocker, it’s the porn. Equation to an Unknown. Halsted does pretty well too. Sex sells. Who would’ve thought?

What’s the criteria for an Altered Innocence title these days?
I have to like it! Beyond that, if it’s a title I don’t feel is too mainstream, because I don’t have deep pockets. And shock value is nice, too. I like to shock people a little, make them a little uncomfortable. Horny is good, too. I’m very sex positive, so a horny film is great.

You’ve managed to restore and release films that were seemingly lost forever or never got past VHS or early DVD. What’s a “holy grail” title you’d love for Altered Innocence?
Total Eclipse, Agnieszka Holland’s 1995 biopic about the fiery romance between poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, played by Leo DiCaprio and David Thewlis. It’s the only one in which Leo gets full-on naked, and was only released on DVD. I think it would sell to the right people, especially if they want the Leo collection complete. We’ve asked the director and the associate producers about who owns it now, and nobody knows. It could still be in the Warner Brothers collection and they may not realize they have the rights.

As someone who attends film festivals for both work and a love of film, which are your favorites?
Easy. My home fest is Los Angeles’ Outfest (outfest.org). I’ve gone since I was in college. I think it’s a fabulous film festival. Austin, Texas’ Fantastic Fest (fantasticfest.com) is awesome. I only went once but had one of the best weeks ever. All the films are in one theater and it’s a big group of cinephiles hanging out for seven days eating, drinking, and having a total blast, and the programming is always so eclectic. Not just horror, it goes to fantasy, weirdo arthouse films, and they admire anything in that realm of the wild, weird, and fantastical. Also, I love February’s Berlinale (berlinale.de), the Berlin International Film Festival. I’ve been going for years and it’s truly the chillest. It’s basically a bunch of locals that love cinema and the movie industry and they all come together in a town with easy transportation, low cost of housing and food, and it’s such an easy call to make to go there. Admittedly, it has some fame hunters, but nothing like Cannes, which is all fame and celebrity hunters.

What’s your advice for attending film festivals? Any tips for seeing as much as possible or optimizing the experience?
My big recommendation is always bring a bag. Not too big, but big enough for an umbrella, because you’ll come out of a screening and it’s raining, so be prepared for that sort of thing. Also maybe hide some snacks because sometimes you go on a marathon of three movies back-to-back and you don’t want to stomach rumble! Also, go to films you wouldn’t normally see or might make you uncomfortable, because those will be the ones you remember forever. You don’t just want to see comedies—see a tragedy, mix it up. Try to make friends with the programming team and ticketing staff, so you can ask what the hot ticket items are. Don’t be afraid of rush lines [when something is sold out]. In general, you will probably get in if you get on a rush line. This rule doesn’t always apply, it depends on the filmmaker or festival, but in general it does.

Are there festivals you recommend just for the chance to explore the city where it takes place, and what are a few places you recommend in those locales?
Berlinale in Berlin. I’m a big foodie, so I get the same tasting doner on every corner, and it’s usually 5 euros and you’ll be full all day, it’s one of the best things ever. The Michelin starred place I enjoy is Horvath, and a great schnitzel place (I love schnitzel) is Schnitzelei Mitte. I also highly recommend Prinz Eisenherz Buchladen, which is one of the world’s best queer book/photobook/movie stores. And I love Austin for Fantastic Fest. You don’t even have to leave the venue, because the Alamo Drafthouse serves food and drink all day and night. There’s also amazing barbecue just steps away, and Austin has a lively gay scene, too.

What about international festivals you haven’t been to yet but would love to go?
I want to go to the LGBTQ Iris Prize (irisprize.org) in Cardiff, Wales. I hear the best things about it and everyone compares it to a fairy tale. I want to go to Locarno, because I’ve picked up a lot of their titles. And I think Rotterdam would be cool as well. But Iris for sure, my number one. The Wounded Man got a screening at a fantastic queer NYC film series called Narrow Rooms, which shows a lot of obscure, experimental, edgy work.

Wounded Man (Photo by Ville Tanttu)

Wounded Man (Photo by Ville Tanttu)

What film series and theaters do you love and recommend around the country for awesome programming?
That’s a good one. I’ve been liking some of these new “microcinemas” that have been popping up, like The Beacon (thebeacon.film) in Seattle. It’s not queer-helmed, but they have a crowd that comes out and supports them and makes almost every show a sell-out. Let’s give Los Angeles’ female-led Vidiots (vidiotsfoundation.org) some props, which opened in June 2023. They resurrected the Eagle, an awesome, old school, rundown L.A. theater, and did a complete renovation, with a 271-seat movie theater and video store. I’ve always liked the Austin Film Society cinema (austinfilm.org), their programming is super diverse and cinephile-forward. They do a little of everything, and a pretty diverse staff too. Spectacle (spectacletheater.com) in Brooklyn, NY is legendary. Nearly half of the restoration titles I put out they’ve put on their screen, and they cut hundreds of fan-made trailers from VHS and bootleg DVD copies for them, too. They’re doing the lord’s work in terms of showing small cinema.

Where do you want to travel to for pleasure?
I’m a little obsessed with Copenhagen. I went there on a brief post-Berlin trip in February, and it’s got to be one of the cutest little paradises in Europe. I was shocked at how organized everything was and the public transit is some of the best I’ve been on (I think a train comes every three minutes). The canals and people are beautiful, and everyone speaks two languages fluently. The cuisine is also super exciting. I went to Restaurant Barr, which you’ll find in the same space Noma used to be. That was a fabulous meal. I also love Tokyo and would love to go back. I’ve been to Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong, but really want to go back to Tokyo. I’ve been to Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico quite a few times. I went to Mexico City six or seven years ago with family and didn’t have a blast, but I think it’s because I was with my family!

Despite your passion for physical media releases, how do you feel about an Altered Innocence streaming service?
We tried already! We did it about two years ago, and it lasted for a year before it shut down. There are so many streaming services these days I’m shocked I got as many sign-ups as I did. I subscribe to Mubi, Criterion, Shudder, Canopy, and Tubi, and think what we have now is a good amount. Please, no more! I think Shudder’s one of the best out there. As much as I like Criterion Channel, it’s intimidating. I sometimes don’t go on because I see there are so many classics I haven’t watched yet. Shudder seems like lower stakes, like “I’ll discover a new film today!”

Le Beau Mec

Le Beau Mec

How important is it to buy physical media today for queer and arthouse films like yours?
Anything that isn’t piracy is part of the effort to save the indie film industry. If you support a streaming service, they’ll keep licensing things from me. If you rent things on Amazon or Google, that’s making it so I can keep acquiring films from around the world. If you buy a DVD or Blu-ray, you’re both supporting the film itself, as well as the physical media industry which people are passionate about, and if we can keep this going, we’ll have these high-quality versions that won’t disappear. Libraries buy DVDs and Blu-rays, too, and those are free to rent. If you don’t have access to the internet, a library is the easiest way to watch a film and become educated.

What can you share as far as upcoming Altered Innocence releases?
We’ve been working on a director’s cut of Todd Stephens’ 2001 feature Gypsy 83. It’s an entirely new version, because it’s being edited from alternate takes, tons of footage that was never used, and it has brand new storylines. The editor never saw the original, so it’s going to be like a whole new film. Super exciting!

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