FilmScene marks the 30th anniversary of the University of Iowa HIV/AIDS Clinic with mini film series

Stills from ‘Philadelphia’ (1993), ‘Life, Above All’ (2010) and ‘How to Survive a Plague’ (2012)

When the University of Iowa introduced its HIV/AIDS Clinic in 1988, the U.S. AIDS epidemic was in full swing, with more than a 100,000 reported cases. The UI offered the first clinic in Iowa to treat not just AIDS, but HIV infection, and saw hundreds of patients within its first two years.

Today, the UI HIV/AIDS Clinic is the largest of its kind in the state, and marks its 30th anniversary in a time when prognoses for HIV-positive patients are far more favorable than in the late ’80s. And while a cure may still be far off, researchers in the clinic are finding more effective and less-toxic treatments for a range of HIV cases, leading to a decline in AIDS diagnoses.

Science and stories come together at the UI clinic, but the Bijou Film Forum, FilmScene and Iowa City Pride will focus on the latter to help celebrate the clinic’s 30th. FilmScene will host screenings of three HIV/AIDS-focused films, with accompanying talks by UI experts.

Screenings are free for UI students (don’t forget your student ID) and $5 for the general public.

How to Survive a Plague

FilmScene — Monday, April 22 at 6 p.m.

A definitive document of HIV/AIDS activism during the U.S. crisis, How to Survive a Plague (2012) sews together scenes from hundreds of hours of archival footage to tell a tragic but ultimately hopeful tale. Director Dave France focuses on the formation and work of the group ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), which demanded acknowledgment, action and answers from the U.S. government and medical establishment as they watched their loved ones die of AIDS.

ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) lobbied to speed up FDA trials for potential HIV/AIDS treatments, develop an alternative to AZT — the only HIV drug in the mid-’80s, considered to be both prohibitively expensive and dangerous — and create the International AIDS Conference.

How to Survive a Plague is more than a handy history lesson, colored by moving interviews and sobering reflections on American homophobia and the government’s unconscionably slow and stubborn reaction to a modern-day plague.

The documentary will be introduced by Dr. Ted Powers of the UI Department of Anthropology. Dr. Kristi Ferguson will also present a screening of the short film Three Faces of Aids, which she produced.

Life, Above All

FilmScene — Tuesday, April 23 at 6 p.m.

Life, Above All (2010) is undoubtedly the least prominent of the three films in the line-up, but no less worth a watch. The South African, Sotho-language film — which earned a four-star review from Roger Ebert — tells the fictional story of a 12-year-old girl named Chanda, who lives in a village outside of Johannesburg. Chanda and her family are ostracized after it is revealed her mother has AIDS, and may have passed it to Chanda’s sister, who died shortly after being born. Chanda’s only ally is her friend Esther, who has been forced to become a child prostitute to support herself.

Life, Above All may be a little moralistic, but it is also quiet and inspiring, boasting a biting condemnation of stigma, superstition and gossip. And though its a rooted in rural South African cultural dynamics, its more than relevant to American audiences. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki wasn’t the only world leader to hedge on addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, letting ignorance flourish at the expense of lives.

Dr. Marie Kruger will be introducing Life, Above All before the screening. Kruger has taught the film in UI English Department courses. The Bijou Film Board will also host a dialogue after the screening.


FilmScene — Wednesday, April 24 at 6 p.m.

For all its flaws — pandering to a heteronormative audience, perpetuating the “bury your gays” trope, simplifying and sanitizing complex issues surrounding HIV/AIDS and gay life to create a palatable morality talePhiladelphia (1993) is a cinematic landmark, a good film with extraordinary cultural importance.

The first major Hollywood movie to focus on the HIV/AIDS crisis, Philadelphia follows the fictional Andrew Beckett (inspired by the story of Geoffrey Bowers) who is fired from his Philadelphia law firm when the partners discover he has AIDS. Beckett (Tom Hanks) hires the only lawyer who will represent him, the vaguely homophobic Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), to sue his former employers for discrimination.

As corny as it is compelling, Philadelphia is best viewed through the lens of its time. Released more than a decade into the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S., the film put a sympathetic human face — the cuddly Tom Hanks, no less, in his first Oscar-winning role — on the disease, and unequivocally condemns the fear, disgust and apathy with which Beckett is treated because of his HIV/AIDS status.

The screening of Philadelphia will be introduced by Dr. Jack Stapleton of the UI Department of Internal Medicine.

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