In light of Ryan Murphy’s The Normal Heart releasing last week, it got ol’ Az thinking about films with the subject of HIV/AIDS at their core. It brought to mind 4 stellar documentaries in recent years that have had a profound impact on understanding the real battle we face against this virus. So throw away the fictional accounts, drop the dramatisations and sink your teeth into these 4 films that lift the lid on the real life and times of HIV/AIDS. Buried at the core of these documentaries is the persecution of homosexuals and, especially in the 4th film, it is brought right to the fore.
Whatever your sexual persuasion – put these 4 flicks high on your must see lists
2011 – WE WERE HERE
David Weissman’s heartbreaking and compelling documentary of HIV/AIDS in San Francisco in the early 1980’s is essential viewing. Deftly engaging the audience in the wide spread panic of the ‘gay plague’ through to wrenching accounts of personal loss, mounting social frustration and political ignorance, We Were Here is not only an exemplary account of the birth of HIV/AIDS it’s also a stellar example of documentary film making. It’s a devastating film and a must see:
Synopsis: We Were Here documents the coming of what was called the “Gay Plague” in the early 1980s. It illuminates the profound personal and community issues raised by the AIDS epidemic as well as the broad political and social upheavals it unleashed. It offers a cathartic validation for the generation that suffered through, and responded to, the onset of AIDS. It opens a window of understanding to those who have only the vaguest notions of what transpired in those years. It provides insight into what society could, and should, offer its citizens in the way of medical care, social services, and community support.
2012 – HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE
David France’s rallying documentary on the political activist groups ACT UP and TAG from the U.S. gay community against the government ignorance towards HIV/AIDS is a David vs Goliath story. This enthralling, emotive and raging documentary is a triumph of the human spirit and how a minority group rallied together and took on the social and political establishments to fight for medical treatments and research. This Oscar nominated film is one helluva piece of work and perfectly captures the time and crises
Synopsis: How to Survive a Plague is the story of two coalitions-ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group)-whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. Despite having no scientific training, these self-made activists infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time. With unfettered access to a treasure trove of never-before-seen archival footage from the 1980s and’90s, filmmaker David France puts the viewer smack in the middle of the controversial actions, the heated meetings, the heartbreaking failures, and the exultant breakthroughs of heroes in the making.
2013 – FIRE IN THE BLOOD
Probably the most enraging of the HIV/AIDS documentaries and one of the most important ever made, Dylan Mohan Gray’s Fire In The Blood shows you how big pharmaceutical use their huge governmental influence to keep medication margins in their favour while 3rd world countries and the poor suffer without treatment. It’s incendiary, incisive and deeply disturbing that this practice is happening on a day to day basis right now and millions suffer from HIV and are unable to receive help on the basis of a profit margin. A blood boiling, deeply researched masterwork that takes the plight global and shows you what’s really going on.
Synopsis: A shocking exposé of how pharmaceutical companies use patent law to keep profits unconscionably high even at the expense of peoples’ lives, and a plea for universal access to affordable, life-saving generic medicines. An intricate tale of “medicine, monopoly and malice”, FIRE IN THE BLOOD tells the story of how Western pharmaceutical companies and governments aggressively blocked access to affordable AIDS drugs for the countries of Africa and the global south in the years after 1996 – causing ten million or more unnecessary deaths. It is also the inspiring story of the improbable group of people who decided to fight back. Shot on four continents and including contributions from global figures such as President Bill Clinton, Bishop Desmond Tutu and economist Joseph Stiglitz, FIRE IN THE BLOOD is the never-before-told true story of the remarkable coalition which came together to stop ‘the Corporate Crime of the Century’ and save millions of lives.
2013 – CALL ME KUCHU
Technically this is not about HIV/AIDS but Uganda’s first openly gay man David Kato, Call Me Kuchu is one of the most emotional, courageous and heartbreaking documentaries you are likely to ever see. As the Ugandan government moves to pass a law that bans homosexuality and make it a crime punishable by death, Kato stands tall to represent the closeted homosexuals of that nation. He’s a wildly brilliant man, in turns hilarious, generous, incensed and devoted. His story is a must see as his fight against bigotry, misunderstanding and violence against minorities is unfathomable. He is a testament to human rights and a hero in Aza’s eyes. Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall have fashioned a documentary that does everything it should and more – warm your heart, terrify you, enrage you and devastate you. Flawless.
Synopsis: In Uganda, a new bill threatens to make homosexuality punishable by death. With unprecedented access, the filmmakers follow David Kato – Uganda’s first openly gay man – and his fellow activists as they work against the clock to defeat the legislation while combatting vicious persecution in their daily lives. But no one, not even the filmmakers are prepared for the brutal murder that shakes their movement to the its core and sends shock waves around the world. CALL ME KUCHU depicts the last year in the life of a courageous, quick-witted and steadfast man whose wisdom and achievements were not fully recognised until after his death, and whose memory has inspired a new generation of human rights advocates.