Fire in the Belly is the story of the visual artist and political activist David Wojnarowicz, who in the early 1990’s, dying of AIDS, sues the powerful right wing demagogue Reverend Donald Wildmon, who has politically exploited and mischaracterized David’s work in an attempt to silence gay rights advocates and publicly funded art in America.
Based on the book 'Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz' by Cynthia Carr and written by award-winning writer/director, Joshua Sanchez, Fire in the Belly is not just a feature film about the story of David Wojnarowicz (pronounced voy-nah-ROW-vitch), an abused child, a teenage runaway and a former Times Square hustler who used art to recreate himself in the later part of the twentieth century, but also a story of David and Goliath: a young artist up against the repressive forces of powerful, right-wing demagogues. And it is the story of an intensely embattled arts community, fighting for their survival against the ravages of a global plague.
With no formal arts education, Wojnarowicz became one of the most important creative voices of his time and the moral authority of his generation. Coming of age in the East Village of the 1980s, Wojnarowicz found his place in this last New York City bohemia, famous as much for its drugs and seediness as for its diverse and flamboyant art scene. “He was the quintessential East Village figure, a bit of a loner, a bit crazy, ferociously brilliant and anarchic. He was a self-educated dropout who made art on garbage can lids, who painted inside the West Side piers where men met for anonymous sex, who pressed friends into lookout duty while he covered the walls of New York with graffiti.”
Wojnarowicz in the 1980's East Village art scene and quickly made a name for himself with provocative works in painting, photography, and fiction that ushered in a new era of identity politics in American art and culture. But just as Wojnarowicz’ work was moving into the national spotlight, the AIDS pandemic began its devastating advance through so many creative worlds. Wojnarowicz spent most of his last years fighting not just the virus but also the right-wing political and religious figures who wanted to end federal funding for artists, especially ones that were openly gay, and demonized them unconscionably.
Fire in the Belly tells the story of an important real-life artist whose work has continued to be controversial long after he lost his battle with AIDS in 1992. In 2010, right-wing Catholics and Republicans in the U.S. Senate protested the inclusion of his film A Fire in My Belly in an exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The museum complied, removing his work and creating a storm of controversy over censorship, reviving the national debate over government arts funding and freedom of expression.