Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt

Dir: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, 1989. Gay Special Interest.
Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt
Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt was a groundbreaking documentary made in 1989 about the AIDS crisis at the peak of its destruction. It’s a film that sheds light on the U.S. government’s bigoted and, for all intents and purposes, criminally negligent non-response to the epidemic when it was a disease disproportionately affecting gay men. More importantly it’s a film about the misery the disease caused for a cross-section of Americans either living with the disease or caring for people who were.

In the illustrious tradition of American documentaries giving voice to marginalized social classes such as Harlan County U.S.A., Common Threads is both a profile in ordinary human courage, featuring several people detailing their stories for the filmmakers as they struggled to face life head-on, knowing they didn’t have much time left. It’s also a profile in cowardice and how the Reagan Administration failed to respond to a health crisis that ultimately took more American lives than the Vietnam War. The filmmakers didn’t limit the scope of their film to just the gay community, though, and it’s to their credit. We also hear from an African American heterosexual woman who was infected by her male partner as well as the mother of a little boy who got the disease from a blood transfusion.

The most remarkable quality of these people is the peaceful, thoughtful way they come across to the camera. They are people whose entire lives have been ripped apart by AIDS. Some lost lovers, some lost kids, or husbands, or the fathers of their children. Some were living with the disease after their partners had died from it already. Ultimately out of all the death and sorrow the AIDS quilt becomes a symbol. It’s a symbol of community response in the face of government indifference. It’s both a memorial and a symbol of hope. We lost friends and family to AIDS. This happened and it was ignored. We won’t and can't forget.

I wouldn’t recommend having anything fun lined up to do after watching this. It’s probably the most intensely emotional documentary I’ve ever seen. Even the Bobby McFerrin music, a somber piece written just for the film, adds brilliantly to the overwhelming feelings of loss and sorrow but also hope conveyed by the film.  For anyone who was affected by AIDS or who wants to know the kinds of brilliant people we lost to the disease, please see this movie.
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Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 1989.
Posted by:
Matt Messbarger
Apr 17, 2012 4:52pm
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