Judge Bryan Pope gives a heartfelt look at this important film.
"The AIDS tragedy is our tragedy. And these stories are ours, too."—Filmmaker Rory Kennedy
Approximately 40 million people currently live with HIV/AIDS, and one person dies from it every 10 seconds. The disease has already killed more than 24 million people. By 2010, the number of AIDS orphans worldwide will reach an estimated 40 million. Although the facts about HIV/AIDS are harsh and jarring, they alone do not convey the urgent need to find a cure. Filmmaker Rory Kennedy understands this, and she puts a human face on AIDS by going beyond the numbers and taking us into the lives of people who are battling the deadly disease. Her documentary, Pandemic: Facing AIDS, is available courtesy of Docurama.
Facts of the Case
Pandemic: Facing AIDS takes us to South Africa, Russia, Thailand, India, and Brazil, to hear five stories about people whose lives have been changed by HIV/AIDS.
Any discussion of AIDS could easily start with a bulleted list of facts and figures 10 pages long, but that's a cold, clinical approach to a disease that has such a devastating effect on millions of people worldwide. Fortunately, Kennedy uses the facts sparingly. She is more concerned with the stories AIDS sufferers and their families have to tell. She is so compassionate and unflinching in documenting these stories that she makes us care too. She also makes us think, cry, and most importantly, hope.
Each story hit me from a different direction, so I'd be hard-pressed to tell you which one touched me the most. I first met Margaret and Apollo, who oversee the Uganda Orphans Rural Development Program in East Africa. For Margaret and Apollo, every day is a struggle to contain the disease and educate others. As I watched them teach dozens of orphaned children about AIDS prevention, I tried to understand how this could be a part of any young child's life. I also watched anxiously as several married couples were tested for the disease, then given the results. The silence in the room, when one couple tested positive, was deafening.
The film then shifted to Russia, where I was angered by the hatred Lena and Sergie faced as carriers of the disease. Said one man: "[AIDS] gets homos and druggies. Let them get it." Lena and Sergie became infected through intravenous drug use, and they have a young son who lives with Lena's mother. Lena's mother resents her for the choices she has made, but she also cries over her daughter's fate and the thought of her grandson ultimately being left alone.
Next, I learned that India has more cases of HIV/AIDS than any other country in the world other than South Africa. Truckdriver Nagaraj is among the infected, and his wife wishes to have a child with him before he dies. Discussing the likelihood of giving his wife a child, Nagaraj says with brutal honesty, "I think having sex is the equivalent of killing her."
Afterward, I met Lek who, became infected while prostituting herself, in order to have money to send home to her poverty-stricken family. She moved to an AIDS hospice far away from her parents and 12-year-old son, who hardly recognized her in this emaciated state. I cried when she visited her estranged family one last time before her death, then cried again at her story's bittersweet ending.
Finally, I traveled to Brazil and met Alex, a 27-year-old gay man who was fending off the effects of the disease with some success. He's fortunate to live in a country run by a government that strongly supports AIDS prevention and treatment programs. He's also fortunate to have a family that accepts and loves him despite his disease and their feelings about his lifestyle. In fact, his brother says the disease has brought them closer.
These stories are tragic, but at times also inspiring, and Kennedy is careful not to judge. She uses numbers to provide a context for the stories, then wisely stands back and lets the stories speak for themselves. In doing so, she reveals the dignity of her storytellers and finds the humanity in a topic that desperately needs it. To find a cure for HIV/AIDS, Kennedy is saying, we must first understand what's at stake. Pandemic: Facing AIDS is a powerful step in the right direction.
Pandemic: Facing AIDS is presented in its original full-screen format with Dolby Digital Stereo. This is a handsome presentation of an important program. Extras consist of a photo gallery, a written statement and brief biography of Kennedy, an AIDS Resource Guide, and a listing of other titles from Docurama.
Pandemic: Facing AIDS challenges us to open our eyes and acknowledge that, behind the statistics, millions of individuals around the world live with AIDS and have stories to tell and lessons to teach.
Not guilty, and the court commends the subjects of this documentary for their bravery in sharing their stories with us.
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