The documentary Positive Youth will air Monday, May 27, on OutTV Canada at 9pm ET/PT. Find out more about the making of this cutting-edge look into the lives of young people living with HIV.
What inspired you to make this documentary?
I was in New York meeting with MTV/LOGO and we were throwing around ideas – when the subject of doing a documentary on HIV+ youth surfaced it scared me. That’s also how I knew it was a good idea. I knew it would not be an easy film to make in terms of finding subjects willing to share their life and struggles living with a chronic illness that holds so much stigma in our society. The most dramatic rise in new transmissions is in our youth – why? It’s time we re-examine the illness and our ideas surrounding it.
What was your process for choosing individuals to follow in this documentary?
The face of HIV is the human face. It does not discriminate. It was important to me that I show subjects from different socio-economic backgrounds, a mix of ethnicities and sexuality. It was not easy to find my subjects – I had a lot of people say no, which is understandable. Often, positive people face so much stigma within their workplace, families, friends, potential relationships, and society at large that the thought of then opening their lives to be in forty-five million homes across the USA and Canada is scary, to say the least. Slowly and surely I found brave young people willing to share, and the stories are very powerful.
What separates your film from other HIV-related documentaries?
We’ve seen a lot of important retrospective films on HIV/AIDS. I wanted to do something different, and so focusing on the population that is most at risk today and yet facing a very different disease than the epidemic of the last thirty years made sense. HIV is now a chronic illness, meaning that it is manageable with treatment, and the likelihood is that a positive person will live a long and healthy life comparable to a negative person, aside from the burden of meds and facing the emotional and psychological stress of discrimination.
Do you think it’s harder for people to deal with HIV today than before?
I think overall it’s easier for positive people now because of the amazing advances in science, medicine, and our understanding of how HIV works within our bodies. We’ve had a shift in the first world from a fear of dying to fear of segregation and potential to find love. In the end that’s the greatest sadness I witnessed in making the film – the fear these young people had of never finding someone who would accept and love them regardless of their HIV+ status.
Do you think this film will help others better understand the HIV-positive youth of today?
In the film we discuss what it felt like to get the positive diagnosis, the fear of disclosure, trying to make sense of all the information, building support systems, advocacy, and hope for the future. Similar to the movement for racial, gender, or sexuality equality – the first step is removing fear and that most often comes in the form of education. The four stars in the film bare their hearts and souls. They offer themselves as accessible and relatable and I hope that audiences will be able to empathize, to gain a greater understanding, and to start seeing the human faces and not just the illness.
What can people do to help and support HIV-positive youth?
I think the most important thing we can do right now is get ourselves up to date with sex education and the current state of HIV. Then the individual can begin to marshal and politely correct her/his peers when a stigmatizing comment comes up. That’s really step one. We need to embrace positive people in our society and stop seeing them as fearful, or “the other.” That’s where the healing really begins for everyone. I think we also need to listen to our youth and find out where we have failed them in terms of safe sex education. How do we speak to them through education more effectively?