The issue of HIV and AIDs remains a major one in the Gay and Lesbian community, but it is also a broader concern too.
A Yorkton-born and raised filmmaker Charlie David (Lubiniecki) is hoping a new documentary will help put the health issue back into people’s minds and helpfully focus attention to facilitate further research and awareness.
“I felt there was a huge disconnect in public awareness about the advancements in HIV medication and research,” David told Yorkton This Week. “The 80’s and early 90’s were a tremendously scary time and the education and propaganda that happened have left indelible marks in many of our minds. HIV equals AIDS and AIDS equals death.
“This is no longer the case with proper care and early detection through routine testing. People are living long and healthy lives with HIV.”
That is the good news, but David said more research is required.
“Having said that – even though we’ve managed to move it from ‘death sentence’ to ‘chronic illness’, I feel there’s a very important message that needs to be shared – especially with our youth.
“Safe sex is not something to take lightly and if you can protect yourself by using a condom and getting tested regularly - why not do it?
“We made this documentary to educate those who know little of HIV, shed light on the rise of HIV infection among today’s youth, give hope to people living with HIV and let them know that they are not alone.”
David said increasingly HIV is a youth issue, and they need to be aware of that, which is a huge element of the film.
“The rate of HIV transmission is rapidly rising in our youth,” he said. “I was interested to know why. Is sex education missing in our schools? Is it missing in our family life? If it is being taught – where are we missing the mark? What stigma does a young HIV-positive person face today and how do they work through it?
“It’s a big issue and I don’t pretend to have all the answers but sometimes I think by posing the question we can begin an important dialogue that can lead us toward doing things better.”
David, himself Gay is of course close to the issue, but said the film is about making social commentary to make a difference.
“Positive Youth (the film) came about through a discussion I was having with executives at MTV Networks in New York,” he said. “I told them I wasn’t interested in creating ‘hair-pulling’ television. I wanted to make films and TV that inspired conversation and that create social change and reflection.
“With my other films – Mulligans, Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride and 2 Frogs in the West I feel there’s social norms that are brought into light and questioned – whether it’s a young French Canadian girl leaving Quebec for adventure and to learn English in the West or following a human rights movement in Moscow.
“I am most interested and passionate when I feel I’m taking an audience into sometimes uncomfortable territory – but territory that I hope they will be challenged by and come out richer for the experience.”
David said the film was one he was initially a bit uncertain about.
“When I told the network executives at MTV the type of films I wanted to make we started to brainstorm ideas and they actually put forward the idea of doing something with HIV-positive youth,” he said. “The idea frankly scared me. That’s also how I knew it was a good one.
“This film was not easy to make – I had to face a lot of my own stigma in terms of HIV. I was scared of HIV – I had seen the horrible pictures of people wasting away and dying. Everything I knew about it was scary.”
In that respect David said making the film helped him too.
“Through spending time with the young stars of my film I finally felt cleansed of my own ignorance and I felt ashamed for some of the brash misconceptions and judgements I had even subconsciously held,” he said. “We are very quick to support, run marathons and rally behind people in our society with diabetes, or breast cancer, or heart disease but HIV has the unfortunate classification of judgement - ‘your choices led you to this.’
“I’d like to pose a question – who among us has ever not practiced safe sex – even once. That’s all it takes. Sometimes people don’t make great choices and sometimes they just get the short end of the stick.
“As a society it’s still our responsibility to welcome them, to care for them, to support them as best we can and to love them.”
As is the case with all documentaries, David hopes Positive Youth carries with it a positive message people pay attention too.
“HIV/AIDS does not discriminate,” he said. “It does not select based on gender, race, or sexual orientation. The transmission rate is rapidly rising in our youth – male and female – gay and straight and more quickly in some of our ethnic communities.
“The film holds a dual message – first, if you are negative, use protection, get tested regularly and stay negative.
“And second, if you are positive, life is not over, this is a message of hope – you can live a long, happy and fulfilled life when you manage HIV with your doctor.
“Medical science is making amazing strides and many HIV-positive people are getting their viral loads to negligible and non-transmissible levels.”
Positive Youth will premiere in the USA on MTV/LOGO on May 19, at 8 p.m. EST. The film will be available in Canada on iTunes and Amazon May 19 as well.