What motivated you to make this film?
In 1997, World Vision approached me with a request for funding. Several projects were proposed, but only one stuck out to me. It was a proposal to support a kid’s club in Romania for children who were infected with HIV in the hospitals and institutions in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The program, started by Venera Batescu, was aimed at providing a safe place for the kids to socialize. They would do crafts together and have outings to the Black Sea or the mountains.
I had been interested and involved in the HIV pandemic for many years already. It was clear to me from the first mention that I would be supporting this project. We assumed, in those early days, that the kid’s camp would have a definitive timeline. The children were not expected to live more than 10 years. This was a program that increased the quality of life for these kids while they were still here. There were no long-term goals, no projected outcomes, no strategic initiatives.
I remember visiting Romania for the first time in the fall of 1999. I met Venera at the World Vision office. I met Dr. Matusa in the hospital. The AIDS ward was packed. Dr. Matusa supervised the children, had school lessons, and fed them all. It was not a hospital—it was a home for these kids. I vividly remember one boy on the brink of death. He was lying on a bench in the schoolroom so that he could be close to his friends. He did not want to die alone in his room.
We visited families and went on field trips with several of the kids. In those days, the parents did not tell the children they were ill. In most families, only one child was infected. It would be the one child that was born into the window of time when contaminated blood was given in hospitals, or had the bad luck of getting a cold during that time, that contracted the disease. We were not allowed to speak of it. The families did not want any of the children to know. It seemed, at that time, to be less about stigma from the outside, and more about letting the child have a stress free life in his short time on earth.
I returned in the fall of 2006. In those intervening years, ARV drugs became widely available in Romania. Though many children died, many more were living.
There were several things during the visit that made a great impact on me and led directly to the making of the documentary. The first: the children were now young adults.
The second: not only did they finally KNOW about their disease—they were becoming advocates and activists. They were going on radio shows, passing out safe-sex information on the beaches, speaking with government officials.
I left that trip with one image— a megaphone. I wanted to be a megaphone so that a larger audience could hear this message—the one that they, themselves, were telling—, perhaps even the world. This is where the idea of a documentary first came to be.
It took two years after those first thoughts for the filming trip. There were so many issues to deal with—confidentiality being chief among them. But filming did happen, and other trips followed before completion of the documentary.
I continue to support these youth in Romania, though the kid’s club has grown and evolved to include scholarships, vocational training, and other assistance. We could never have imagined, back in 1997, just how strategic the kids club program would be. Through the heroic dedication of Venera, Dr. Matusa, and the countless other people that give their time and energy to these young adults, a generation is alive and paving the way for other HIV infected youth to be able to dream of full, productive lives.
Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?
Many of the kids wanted and needed to remain anonymous because of the stigma still attached to their HIV status so it was challenging to find the few that would be brave enough to be on camera.
Distribution was tough because although the subject matter was highly important and overall hopeful, it wasn’t an easy “sell” for distributors. We know the film has been extremely influential in classrooms around the world, but tracking screenings and “impact” has been a challenge.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
Hope exists in the darkest of circumstances.
The best way to support “causes” is to support the care-takers who work day in and day on-the-ground.
Not only are the youth heroes in this story, but the care-takers, and journalists who chose to bring this story to the world.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
- Family is so important to the young adults featured in After the Fall despite their lack of traditional families. Consider what constitutes a family for the Moiara, Asica and George. What is the importance of family to them? To you?
- The photographer Frank Fournier calls Dr. Rodica Matusa “a monument.” What is the meaning of this metaphor? Do you think it is an accurate description of her? Why? Who might you describe similarly? Why?
- Eduard Petrescu describes the young people featured in the film as heroes, saying, “To find out that they have a deadly disease, to be outcast from their community, to be thrown out from school, from a hospital, and still to be there, and still to have the power to want to do good. It is amazing. They are heroes. If you ask me, anyone of them can qualify as a genuine hero.” What is a hero? Do the young people in the film fit your definition of a hero? Why?
- One of the most powerful statistics from After the Fall is that in 1992, 80% of the world’s pediatric AIDS cases were in Romania. The film, in showing how “HIV Grows Up”, demands that we consider these questions: What can we do for young adults like the ones featured in the film who are infected with HIV? What actions can we take to ensure that the rights of all people with HIV are guaranteed?
- Discuss the importance of education for HIV positive young people and education for society in order to change cultural norms. Is educating children enough? Is there more that needs to be done?
Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?
The “youth” are growing up and living normal lives.
• Improved resiliency and coping mechanisms among teenagers in Constanta living with HIV or AIDS. Project beneficiaries –
• Able to successfully integrate into their communities.
• Became more confident, optimistic and increased their hope in their future.
• Gained new friends and appreciated and valued working as a team.
• Changed their perspective about HIV and AIDS.
• Became empowered to become more independent, get a job, start a business or earn a degree.
• Learned about social behavior and norms, which impact their integration into their community.
• Learned about health issues, legal rights and job opportunities.
• 51 youth received counseling to help them better manage the difficulties in their life.
• 40 program participants received vocational counseling about the options available for further education. All who qualified were registered for the appropriate vocational, high school or university program.
• 17 youth found employment in various trades—12 in regular positions and 5 in temporary positions.
• 60 teens participated in life skills workshops.
• Monthly spiritual development discussions sessions were attended by 30 youth.
• Emergency food, fire wood and funeral assistance were provided to 19 families in crisis situations.
What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?
Support Together for the Future project which provides assistance for HIV-positive youth as well as their families, tailoring the support to each family’s needs. It helps youth complete their schooling, integrate into society, access stable employment opportunities, sustain themselves and their potential future families, access medical treatment, and be personally empowered and capable to advocate for their rights.
Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):
Breckenridge Film Festival- Official Selection
Underexposed Film Festival- Second Place In the Limelight Award
Social Impact Media Awards- Winner- Best Editing Short Documentary
2010 International AIDS Conference- Vienna, Austria
2013 Creative Activist Film Festival- Los Angeles, CA
2014 UN Humanicy Conference- United Nations Headquarters, NY, NY
Creative Visions Foundation/ RFK Center for Human Rights: Rock Your World Curriculum
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