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From the euphoric 120 BPM to Derek Jarman’s devastating “Blue”

Between running around fundraisers, and getting ready for your charity gala, World AIDS Day is the perfect opportunity to delve right into some quality cinema that dive deep into the complexities of HIV/AIDS, and how we deal and have dealt with it as a culture. One way to do away with stigma is familiarising yourself with the issue, and cinema really allows you to have a multilayered encounter.  From stories that embrace the tragedy of the AIDS Crisis, to stories of resilience and perseverance in the face of it, these are the movies that truly give astute perspectives on HIV/AIDS:

120 BPM (2017)

120 BPM takes us to a group of activists who’ve joined the Paris chapter of ACT UP as they plan their next demonstration. The gradual shift from the sweeping narrative of the campaign for effective HIV/AIDS treatment to the personal stories of those participating in them truly taps into the human stories behind these demonstrations. What this film does well is etch a comprehensive picture of the life of an activist, who’s dedicated to changing things for the better, but also still goes out to party, take drugs, have sex, fall in love, and just live. Too often are stories of these activists sanitised and whitewashed of their intrigue, but this film casts an unflinching eye on the lives of these very human activists.

The Lazarus Effect (2010)

Since the western world has progressed so much in treatment of HIV/AIDS in the past decade, it’s easy to forget that elsewhere in the world the disease is still devastating communities. The Lazarus Effect is a look into the positive impact of free antiretroviral drug therapy on HIV/AIDS patients in Africa, in a look at how there’s always hope even in the most remote communities. The film features medical staff and patients in Zambia talking candidly about their experiences. Tracking several people who have fallen seriously ill as they partake in the drug therapy, and return to a much healthier condition in just a few weeks. Also explored in this documentary is the difficulty of getting people tested, the social stigma that surround the disease and the logistical problems of getting treatment to patients living a four days walk away from the nearest research clinic. This documentary is free to watch on YouTube, just search ‘The Lazarus Effect’.

Precious (2010)

This film was on everyone’s lips back in 2010, with star Gabourey Sidibe shooting to quick fame, Mo-Nique garnering an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and even a Mariah Carey cameo as a social worker. The stories of African American people living in poverty are often ignored, and rarely receive the silver screen reception that Precious gives. This film illustrates perfectly that HIV still disproportionately effects minority communities in the US, throwing a much needed gaze on the class implications of HIV treatment and prevention. This is a hopeful film about overcoming hardship, and making a vibrant and successful living from whatever life throws at you.

How to Survive a Plague (2012)

Larry Kramer’s dubbing of HIV/AIDS as a plague has become problematic as our attitude towards the disease has changed, but in the context of the crisis, it’s easy to see how one would see it that way. Directed by David France, a journalist who followed the disease from early on and lost his partner to AIDS-related pneumonia in 1992, it was his first film in which he sifted through 700 hours of footage to bring forward a very intimate depiction of the crisis. Documenting the underground market for HIV drugs not yet approved by the FDA, it shows the lengths to which people actually went just to get effective treatment. It’s a good cross-section of interviews with activists, physicians and members of underground organisations cut together with news coverage from the 80’s and 90’s. The sheer volume of France’s archive of footage from the time reflects how aware he was of the historic nature of what he was experiencing first hand.

Parting Glances (1986)

This casual glance at urban gay life under the Reagan administration who famously refused to say the name of the disease, even in the height of the AIDS crisis. This was the first film to address the epidemic. It’s also the first and tragically the last film from director Bill Sherwood, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1990 without completing another film. The film follows a 24-hour period with scenes taking place at a farewell for Robert who is leaving to work in Africa, leaving his partner Michael behind. Michael’s ex-boyfriend, played by a then relatively unknown Steve Buscemi, depends heavily on him to be cared for after falling ill. Much like How to Survive a Plague, this film gives a contemporary depiction of the AIDS crisis that is historically significant and takes its rightful place as a watershed moment in gay cinema.

Blue (1993)

Derek Jarman is one of the most influential artists and film directors to have come out of London, with his studio in Butler’s Wharf epitomising the avant-garde from the late 70’s onwards. His diaries have been lauded as being the most touching and intricate relaying of the inner-experience of the disease, from his diagnosis to it ravaging his body and ultimately taking his life. His last film Blue is an experience unparalleled in its profundity and acuity. Health complications had left Jarman only able to see shades of blue, the single shot of a saturated blue which fills the screen takes on a life of its own. This piece was released four months before his death, and is set to a narration of his life and vision where Jarman’s long-time collaborators lend their voices to telling his story. The film’s final moments consists of six names, ‘John. Daniel. Howard. Graham. Terry. Paul.’, the names of his former lovers and friends who had passed away. Blue is devastatingly alluring and is sure to stay with you.

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