The Battle of amfAR
Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Reviewed by Sally Hessney
HBO premieres The Battle of amfAR, a documentary that celebrates the heroism and humanitarianism of two powerhouse AIDS activists—research scientist Mathilde Krim and screen legend Elizabeth Taylor. Directed by award-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet, Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt), the documentary recreates the early years of AIDS while profiling two extraordinary women who forged a powerful partnership to combat it.
The Battle of amfAR takes us back to the early 1980s when we first learned about a deadly new communicable disease in elliptical-sounding stories on the nightly news. Little was known about the transmission of the disease and unsubstantiated stories whipped up fear over whether it could be transmitted through saliva, sweat, tears, or airborne pathogens—via toilet seats, water fountains, and doorknobs. Fear of contagion led to public hysteria, even among doctors, nurses, morticians, EMTs, police officers, firemen, social workers, and teachers. At first, it appeared as though only gay men and intravenous drug users were contracting the virulent disease that later became known as AIDS. Some blamed people with AIDS for bringing the disease down on themselves like a biblical plague. Fear, revulsion, prejudice, and hostility created hurdles in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, leading to a lack of leadership and engagement at all levels of government.
Dr. Mathilde Krim and Elizabeth Taylor stepped into the breach to effect social change in a social climate of stultifying silence and institutional paralysis. In 1985, they cofounded amfAR, America’s first AIDS research foundation. A trailblazing research scientist, Dr. Krim spearheaded the fight against HIV/AIDS early on. At the urging of her husband, Arthur Krim, the head of United Artists and Orion Films, she contacted outspoken actress Elizabeth Taylor, who was willing to leverage her fame and beauty to champion the cause of people with AIDS. Taylor’s longtime friend and fellow actor Rock Hudson died in 1985 of complications from AIDS. Together, Krim and Taylor formed an effective
team, combining science and star power to speed up the funding of robust research efforts, to galvanize public support behind safe sex education and needle exchanges, to fight for legislation, such as the Ryan White CARE Act, and to put a stop to the stigmatization of AIDS patients.
An official selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, The Battle of amfAR chronicles the strides that have been made in the treatment of HIV/AIDS and describes the recent scientific advances that fill us with hope about finding a cure in the near future. On the 26th anniversary of World AIDS Day, this documentary pays tribute to two passionate, strong-willed, and indomitable crusaders who made these advances possible.
The Battle of amfAR premieres Monday, December 2, at 9 p.m. on HBO, with a sneak peek on Sunday, December 1, World AIDS Day, 3:45 p.m. on HBO2.
Sally Hessney is a program assistant at a nonprofit organization, where one of the educational missions is to educate teenagers about the dangers of binge drinking, prescription drug abuse, distracted driving, STDs, and other consequential issues.