In a recent LA Times Op-Ed, filmmaker and journalist Lisa Biagiotti writes:
More than 30 years into the AIDS epidemic, a combination of safe-sex education and a new generation of pharmaceuticals has left many Americans convinced that HIV/AIDS is a problem that has been, if not solved, at least addressed. But that's certainly not true in the American South, which accounts for nearly 50% of all new HIV infections in the United States.
From the opening sequence of her haunting and beautiful documentary 'deepsouth' the viewer is confronted with both the deeply personal experience of living with HIV in the south and the broader context that ties health, class, race, social justice and family (chosen and otherwise). It's a film that makes you feel and think, or to paraphrase another reviewer, it's a movie that talks to you, not at you.
There are plenty of facts to face; one of the characters the film follows is Kathie Hiers, the chief executive officer of AIDS Alabama, who spends a third or more of her life traveling to advocate for funding and attention in the south, where in some states the death rate from AIDS is 60% higher than the national average and almost half of the people who know they are HIV positive are not receiving care. This proportion, Biagiotti points out in the LA Times, is comprable to the percentage of people going without treatment in Ethiopia
But 'deepsouth' is grounded in experience more than facts. The filmmakers know that facts are easily manipulated, and always dependent on the context from which they arise and within which they are delivered. What makes 'deepsouth' so affecting and such a powerful tool is in the ways it resists narratives of pity and individual medicalization.
It isn't until about 3/4 of the way into the film that we even hear about AZT or blood cell counts, and even then these things are not shared as a way of defining the people they apply to. They are references to daily living, not necessarily more tragic or heroic than anything else we do to make it through the day.
Even as the film rejects a model of pity and triumph there is plenty here that is tragic and remarkable. I'll just pick one particularly personal example: the representation of sex educators and educational experience. Two of the people we meet in the film are organizing a retreat that seems to be part support group, part educational experience for folks living with HIV. It may be one of the most accurate and respectful representations of what doing sex education is actually like that I have ever seen on film.
The work is unglamorous, often un- or at least under-paid, and H-A-R-D. So much of the time you put your sweat and heart and soul into it and you don't make the impact you wanted. Sometimes you fail completely. But you don't lose focus, and you try to remind yourself that treating people with respect means letting them go at their own pace, and that even if trying isn't everything, it matters. For those scenes alone 'deepsouth' should be required viewing for anyone considering a career in sex education.
The film isn't yet available for rent or purchase, but I know the filmmaker is planning to tour with it, and I'll keep posting here when opportunities to screen the film arise. In the meantime you can check out the trailer at the link below.
Watch the Trailer: deepsouth
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