reviewed by V. Anderson
Although compilation feature films have had some success in the past (Paris, Je T’Aime), the subject of HIV/AIDS carries a greater weight than an abstract concept such as “love.” Added to this is the special responsibility of the documentary filmmaker to his/her subject(s). Still Around is a compilation of portraits, varied in style, showing the diverse experiences of people affected by and/or living with HIV/AIDS in the San Francisco Bay area. Seventeen filmmakers took on the responsibility of creating a “video AIDS quilt,” and the result is fifteen compelling short films, all under five minutes each. The feature film begins with archival images and historical information, fascinating because so much—technology, awareness, medication—has changed since HIV/AIDS emerged as a mystery illness.
However, the short films are not linked by a story arc or overriding theme, leaving the purpose and intended audience of the film as a whole unclear. They appear in no particular order, historical (as the opening primes us for) or thematic, and the presence of the archival footage, later interspersed between them, is not sufficient as a unifying thread. Each of the subjects in Still Around is intriguing; however, most of the shorts do not delve deeply enough, causing the viewer to miss out on a more acute look into the experiences of those who are telling their personal stories. “Paws,” “Ward 86,” “Construct,” “To Live,” “Sorrow & Joy” and “Full Circle” are particularly fascinating, but even within the time constraint have potential for more exploration and often leave the viewer wishing for more. A few of the shorts feel confined to the surface, limiting the viewer to accept the restricted access that a guarded subject grants. In spite of this, Still Around resonates in what it leaves the viewer wondering about—coping, education, counseling, awareness, breaking stereotypes, diversity, overcoming prejudice, the exploration of a weightier subject than love.
V. Anderson holds an MFA in Film from New York University. She has worked in India, the Caribbean, and the U.S. and is currently based in New York.