The name of the film is Life, Above All. “You must see it,” a friend had said. “It’s at the Pittsburgh Filmmakers theater downtown and it’s only here till the 18.th” So my husband and I went. I hadn’t asked any questions about what the film was about. That’s the kind of friend she is. You don’t questions; you just do what she suggests.
The setting is a village in South Africa, probably fifteen or twenty years ago. It opens with a woman rocking her infant while a female voice sings a soulful lullaby. The child is dead and the family members cannot know why. The mother of the infant becomes ill, the father is a drunk who blames the wife for their child’s death. We see the story through the eyes of the 12-year-old girl, who cares for the younger children, for her mother, and for a school age friend, whose parents have died of the unnamed disease. Secrecy, shame, and fear are the community disease that give free reign to what we as the audience know, is AIDS.
Into the first five minutes of the film I begin to wonder if my husband and I will be able to make it through. Later, as more characters are impacted by the illness, and by the cruelty of their neighbors’ responses, I hear the sighs and sounds of squirming coming from someone seated behind us. I begin wondering if that person will be able to stay to the end.
I can’t speak for the other audience members, but we know this story. We had a version of it in our own family when our son was diagnosis with AIDS in late 1993. He was told by the AIDS Outreach Center in our town that if he wanted to keep his job, he should keep his diagnosis a secret. “Don’t even tell your best friend,” they cautioned. He followed this advice, and protected himself from his workplaces’ negative responses. But this cost him the chance to receive the support of his friends.
“A disease that is kept a secret cannot heal,” I heard an indigenous healer tell a group of people at an HIV/AIDS conference in the mid-1990s. So I’ve written our story and our son Ken’s story in a mother’s memoir that will be published in 2012. The writing and re-reading of our story has allowed my husband and I to carry this story with some ease, most probably to the end of our lives. And as it’s turned out, it has allowed us to stay through the suffering for the transformation in the stories of others. If you are willing to stay as well, we highly recommend this movie of how we all used to be, and sometimes still are.
To learn more about the film – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1646111/