Filmmaker unveils online HIV story project

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Friday marks a somber anniversary -- 34 years since the CDC first documented a case of AIDS in the U.S.

The pandemic that followed was especially hard on the Bay Area and those who lived through it are unveiling a new kind of memorial.

Filmmaker Marc Smolowitz set up a small, quiet booth where those touched by HIV and AIDS can be alone with their thoughts and a camera.

Hundreds of videos have been recorded over the past six years.

"We all have AIDS. Whether or not someone's positive or negative, we have it. It's a part of our culture," participant Jok Church said in his video.

Church said it felt like confession. "It can be incredibly personal. My partner of 34 years died a horrible death of AIDS," he said.

"It was really hard but I'm glad I did it," participant Joanie Juster said. When asked what was so tough about it, Juster responded, "Figuring out which story to tell."

Juster is a long-time volunteer; "My friends started dying. When my colleagues and coworkers started dying, when everyone, it seemed like everybody in our city was dying," she said.

With an ever-growing mountain of raw touching stories, the archive finally went live.

The filmmakers unveiled "Generations HIV," an online archive where you can watch them all.

"So this history's not lost. Because otherwise all these people who have died, all these people that we've lost, they will just be lost," participant Vince Crisostomo said.

The video archive's been compared to another public awareness project, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which was also conceived right here in San Francisco 30 years ago.

The quilt began traveling the world in 1987 and a section of it still hangs in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral.

It's the inspiration for "Generations HIV."

"So the videos are now the tapestry," Smolowitz said.

"You know, I've been living with HIV for about, since about 1987," Crisostomo said. He said he expected to be on that quilt by now.

"Holding my friends, having them die in my arms, it was challenging," he said. "At some points in my life, I thought it would be easier to die but now I realized if I had died, I wouldn't live to tell the story."
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