HIV: Positive Public Media

Can you believe that in just a few short months, it will be 2011, and we’ll be marking the 30th anniversary of the first cases of HIV in the U.S?

Where were you in 1981, when the stories first appeared in national news about a mysterious disease afflicting the gay community? What do you remember about that first decade? How many friends did you lose to the AIDS epidemic? Did you join ACT UP? Visit the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt? How were you affected by HIV?

The HIV Story Project is a public media initiative that aims to collect and tell the stories of people living with HIV/AIDS. It includes “Generations HIV,” a mobile video storytelling booth that’s been making its way around the Bay Area since early summer. The booth is currently open “for business” until September 3rd at one of the Out of the Closet Thrift Store located in San Francisco. There, visitors can ask or answer questions about HIV or share their personal memories. Eventually, the booth itself will be accessed through an online portal that enables people around the world to watch or upload their own user-generated content.

The HIV Story Project is the brainchild of Marc Smolowitz, who produced the award-winning documentary Trembing Before G-d. So, it should come as no surprise that a film is on the agenda. The HIV Story Project has recruited 16 local filmmakers to create 3-5 minute videos that “capture the spirit and personality of the individual whose story the film tells.” These films will form the basis of a feature-length documentary called “Still Around” which project directors hope will make the rounds at next years film festivals, including Sundance.

“By connecting well known local filmmakers with individuals who are living with HIV/AIDS, the voices of women, men, gay and straight, transgender, young and old, and of myriad ethnic backgrounds will come together to paint an unmatched portrait of how people thrive and survive in the face of long term illness,” reads a description on The HIV Story Project site. 

The HIV Story Project has eight films down and 8 to go. They’ve launched a campaign currently on Kickstarter to raise $8000 in additional funds to finish “Still Around.” Their compilation reel gives a taste of the diversity of stories included in the project.

The other goal of the HIV Story Project is to “create desperately needed video content that can be used by non-profits for HIV education.” Indeed, the seed for the project was planted when a local AIDS service organization sought media assistance from Smolowitz. So, all content produced as part of this project will be made available freely as an outreach tool to groups working in the fight against AIDS.

The HIV Story Project is one of several recent media efforts that aim to bring out the voices and memories of people affected by HIV/AIDS. MQ2 grantee Anita Johnson’s Beyond The Odds also did that by engaging youth of color in creating original poetic films about their HIV status. Last Address “marks the disappearance of a generation” of artists lost to the AIDS epidemic through images of where they lived when they died. Last Address is on display as a street-level window installation at NYU’s Kimmel Center through October 8, 2010.

With the 30th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic approaching, we can expect more media projects coming down the pipeline in 2011, both inside public radio/TV and out.