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16th Annual Outfest Achievement Award: John Waters

John Waters / Photo by Adam Golfer / Courtesy of WSJ Magazine



While most widely known as the infamous “Pope of Trash,” John Waters is a filmmaker, visual artist, author, comedian, essayist and all-around aesthete. He bridges film history between the underground efforts of Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol and the Kuchar Brothers and contemporary Hollywood’s acceptance of queer subject matter and outrageous gross-out humor. And yes, he’s the guy who got Divine to eat dog poop.

Born in Baltimore in 1946, Waters began his show business career as a neighborhood puppeteer before branching out into cinema. Inspired by both experimental and grindhouse cinema – the Catholic Legion of Decency’s “Condemned” list gave young Waters a weekly list of must-see movies – the young auteur began assembling his “Dreamland” cast and crew for provocative shorts with titles like HAG IN A BLACK LEATHER JACKET and EAT YOUR MAKEUP.

It was Waters’ third feature, PINK FLAMINGOS, that put the director on the map as a satirist and provocateur of the highest (though some would argue “lowest”) order. It was also that film that made a superstar of Waters’ original muse, Divine, the Amazonian drag creation of the director’s childhood friend Harris Glenn Milstead. After similarly outrageous comedies like FEMALE TROUBLE, DESPERATE LIVING and POLYESTER, Waters made perhaps his most shocking move as an artist, writing and directing the PG-rated period comedy HAIRSPRAY, which would spawn Broadway and Hollywood musical versions.

Away from the camera, Waters has created art pieces that have been exhibited in museums worldwide; he’s written the brilliant essay collections CRACKPOT, SHOCK VALUE and ROLE MODELS; and he has pioneered the auteur-as-standup-comic career path with his captivating “Evening with” lectures.

Above all, both Waters and his work have been unapologetically queer, championing outsider values and personal expression in a world that rarely appreciates difference. Outfest is proud to honor this cinematic pioneer – whose varied work shows no signs whatsoever of slowing down – as part of our 30th anniversary festival.


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