Still image from the documentary Silverlake Life: The View From Here (POV, 1993)

Still image from the documentary Silverlake Life: The View From Here (POV, 1993)

What’s happened with the fight against AIDS?

I ask that question as a follow-up to a recent post I wrote about the ten documentaries I am most looking forward to in 2012. One of them is Act-Up!, the story of the galvanizing activists who fought to raise awareness about AIDS. In honor of all those who have had to deal with the epidemic in one way or the other, I want to give props to some documentaries about AIDS. But, first, let’s take a quick look at answering my initial question (all numbers are culled from The New York Times).

There are 34 million people currently infected with the virus in the world, and that includes 1.2 million Americans (240,000 of whom are unaware). Recently, President Obama announced he wanted to set up programs to provide drug therapy to six million infected people by the end of 2013, which is up from about four million. What’s most troubling is that the epidemic has reached a plateau internationally, with 2.7 million new people being infected each year for the past five years. Asia and Eastern Europe are two of the regions where the numbers are increasing most.

For those who want to learn more about AIDS through documentaries, I’ve come up with a few places where you can start. First, I’d recommend FRONTLINE’s The Age of Aids, a comprehensive series from 2006, about the history and politics of AIDS which you can watch online. And for a more personal look, there’s 1993’s Silverlake Life: The View from Here, a video diary which aired on POV about living with AIDS.

And then thanks to Lee Mills at Screen Junkies, there’s an intriguing list of “the five best AIDS documentaries,” which includes The Lazarus Effect, The Origin of AIDS, The Other City, AIDS Inc., and House of Numbers: Anatomy of an Epidemic. SnagFilms also has a selection of mostly international AIDS docs, many of which were shot in Africa, that also can be viewed online for free.

That should get us started, if you want to use documentaries as a guide, on answering the question about what’s happened to the epidemic. Still, I look forward to Act-Up!, which, as it turns out, won’t be the first film about the pioneering activists. Fight Back, Fight AIDS: 15 Years of ACT UP, by director James Wentzy, came out in 2002.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen