"After all the relief efforts around the world that have had problems with mismanagement, corruption, graft, or ineffectiveness over the years it is tremendous to see something that works."
There have been many stories about the HIV/ AIDS pandemic in Africa. What makes this one different?
The Lazarus Effect focuses on the dramatic successes that many people are experiencing as a result of the progress made the past few years distributing ARV medication across several countries in Africa. You meet people while they are ill, but then watch them regain strength, health, and vitality over the course of the film. As a result the film is less grim, and perhaps more startlingly vibrant than what the viewer might have seen in earlier films that were highlighting the massive losses that the pandemic has wrought. Additionally, the film is structured to present patients speaking for themselves rather than being commented on by outside overseers or narrators.
How did you meet the subjects featured in the film, and why were they chosen?
The organization (RED) and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis enabled me to go to clinics in Zambia last May, where we met patients as they came in to begin treatment. We met dozens of interesting people and filmed extensively, thrilling at their progress each time we went back. The four main characters in the film are a man, a woman, and an 11 year old girl who were each beginning treatment, and then a woman named Constance Mudenda who supervises 3 of the clinics and has been on ARV medication since it first became available to her 6 years ago. They stood out as being particularly great characters that I connected with emotionally and it was intensely life affirming to watch their progress.
With so many problems right here at home, why should people care about a crisis thousands of miles away?
There are of course numerous problems here in the United States that need resources, but what stands out about the AIDS pandemic in Africa is that it is a preventable and treatable illness, and that we have made so much effective progress through PEPFAR and the Global Fund in bringing the cost of treatment down to a point where it is basically 40 cents a day for the ARV medication to keep each patient alive. After all the relief efforts around the world that have had problems with mismanagement, corruption, graft, or ineffectiveness over the years it is tremendous to see something that works, and which proves that smart targeted aid with accountability built into it can work.
What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
I strove to make a film that has my personal aesthetic, but that presents people living with HIV in Africa speaking for themselves as they reveal how access to ARV medication has rejuvenated them, and given them back their lives. I'd like the audience to be startled by the dramatic improvements, and to realize that this works and needs to be continued and expanded. Access to life-saving medication should be treated as a universal human right.
Where are the subjects now?
(RED) have been great about following up with the subjects. They are all doing well, and the two featured women Concilia and Constance came over to New York to see the premiere. There are some great photographs of them taking it all in.
NOTE: (RED) is very sorry to announce that since this interview was conducted, Bwalya Liteta who features in The Lazarus Effect film, passed away on Saturday August 14 2010, at the age of 12. She had been battling complications from AIDS and ultimately died of heart failure.