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Interview With Jeffrey Friedman

The Battle of Amfar

HBO

Why did you want to make a documentary about amfAR and the AIDS epidemic?

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN

It seemed like a good time to revisit the subject we first visited 25 years ago [in Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt]. So much has changed since then and there were parts of the story that hadnt been told. We thought that telling the story of these two women who got involved very early on when they really didnt have to -- but just because they felt they needed to -- was an inspiring entry point. We wanted to remind people and introduce younger generations to the reality of what was going on back then. Theres complacency among young people now about safe sex because they dont know how horrible it was. Also, AIDS research has made such exciting progress.

HBO

Why do you think Dr. Mathilde Krim and Elizabeth Taylor were the perfect pair to launch amfAR?

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN

I dont know what it was. Chemistry, I guess. They were both very powerful, well-connected women, who were used to getting their way. They complemented each other well; Elizabeth Taylor was very focused on care and treatment and Dr. Krim was very focused on research and science. In that way, they were able to create a very broad outlook for the organization. They were so indomitable and determined and unwilling to take no for an answer. And of course it helped that Elizabeth Taylor was a fabulous movie star.

HBO

Do you think theres still a stigma attached to AIDS?

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN

Yes. I think there is a stigma attached to disease in general. But I dont think the stigma attached to AIDS has ever lifted completely.

HBO

Why was it important for you to show someone who had contracted the disease, like Regan Hoffman?

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN

There were several reasons. One of which is because shes somebody whos confronted the stigma and has overcome it, or is struggling to overcome it. Also, because I think its important for people to know that, as Elizabeth Taylor said, its not just a minority disease. It can affect anybody. She was in a very low-risk group when she got infected.

HBO

Do people still believe they cant get infected because theyre not part of a minority group?

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN

Yeah, I do. I think people take chances. Its always been difficult to encourage people to engage in safe sex. It was much easier when you saw the horrible deaths people were suffering because of sexually transmitted disease. When you dont see that anymore, it becomes less vivid. Its easier to imagine that its not going to affect you, or even if it does, that its not such a horrible thing.

"I hope [the film] will be an inspiration to people of all ages. In terms of HIV/AIDS, I think its important to let young people know what we witnessed."

HBO

Its shocking to see how the attitude could change so sharply in such a short span of time.

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN

Yeah. But I also think its generational. Part of the problem is that so many of the activists in the gay and African American communities who would be spokespeople for safer sex and would speak out about HIV have died. That really left a vacuum. Younger generations werent growing up into any kind of cultural tradition because the populations were so decimated.

HBO

Is part of your aim with this documentary to inform the younger generation that HIV/AIDS is still a very real threat?

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN

In terms of AIDS and HIV, yes. In terms of inspirational activism of individuals who decide they want to make a difference and wont let anything stand in their way, I hope it will be an inspiration to people of all ages. But in terms of HIV/AIDS, I think its important to let young people know what we witnessed.

HBO

Youve experienced the entire arc of the AIDS epidemic -- from the initial panic to present day. But did you learn anything new or surprising while making this documentary?

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN

I was surprised at how optimistic scientists are, based on the few functional cures that weve read about, including the Berlin Patient. That was new to me. I assumed that things were just going to go along the way they had been, with people getting infected and being treated with drug cocktails and managing the disease and staying alive for a decent amount of time. But the idea that scientists are actually speaking optimistically about a cure now is really exciting news and something I wasnt aware of.

HBO

A big message in your film is that everybody can do something. What suggestions do you have for people who want to get involved?

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN

Theres a wonderful group,  an offshoot of amfAR, called generationCURE, which is aimed at younger people -- getting them involved in a campaign to stay negative and find a cure in our lifetime. I think people just need to educate themselves. The Battle of amfAR website also lists ways for people to get involved. But the first step is educating ourselves so we understand the reality of what were facing.

 

 

The Battle of Amfar

Official Selection - 2013 Sundance Film Festival