Washington Post Examines Challenges of Making Documentary Film About HIV-Positive Children in China
The Washington Post on Friday examined the challenges filmmakers Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon faced in making a documentary about children living with HIV/AIDS in China's Anhui province (Boustany, Washington Post, 6/23). The filmmakers had to "break through China's bureaucratic brick walls and cultural barriers" to reach the children, "probing sensitive subjects in a society that puts a stigma on publicly discussing its pain," according to the Los Angeles Times. The "breakthrough" came in 2003 during the SARS outbreak, when Chinese health officials realized they must "become more open on internal issues that could affect global health." The filmmakers were then able to secure funding and access to information on HIV/AIDS in China for their film. When Yang met Zhang Ying, an HIV/AIDS advocate working with orphans in the Yingzhou District of Anhui, the filmmakers found a vehicle to tell their story (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/12). Zhang allowed the film crew access to children affected by HIV/AIDS without government interference. Jiang Hua, a Chinese journalist whose magazine had published "groundbreaking stories" concerning HIV/AIDS in China, also was an "important facilitator" in the project by putting the filmmakers in contact with an HIV-positive Chinese student, the Post reports. According to Lennon, making the film was similar to "walking in the dark and trying to grab the banister. You start out on a project not knowing what you are going to do, and you find your way in the dark." To potentially "mak[e] a difference," Lennon decided that the film should be shown in China. "There was no way that we wanted to go do work on [HIV]/AIDS in China without contributing in some way," Lennon said, adding, "What we brought were some skills and a desire to help and then tried to follow the path where the resistance was least great" (Washington Post, 6/23). The Chinese government estimates that there are 650,000 HIV-positive people in the country, 75,000 of whom have developed AIDS. According to the government, in 2005 there were 70,000 new cases of HIV and 25,000 AIDS-related deaths, and the country's current HIV/AIDS prevalence is approximately 0.05% (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/12). The film, called "The Blood of Yingzhou District," premiered June 14 as part of the Washington, D.C., annual Silverdocs Documentary Film Festival, where it won a Grand Jury Prize (Washington Post, 6/23).
The filmakers' work was supported in part by a mini-fellowship award from the Kaiser Family Foundation.