Tonight at the International Film Center in New York City, Lisa Biagiotti’s film ‘deepsouth‘ is screening as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. We had the opportunity to sit down with deepsouth’s director, Lisa Biagiotti, back in July 2013 and talk about her experiences documenting this often hidden epidemic in the south, as well as her thoughts the film as a tool for community based organizations fighting the formidable adversaries of stigma, discrimination and homophobia. Below we have a few snippets of the conversation we wanted to share.
Lisa Biagiotti (LB): Going back to using the film as a tool, we were talking about capacity building and using stories as a way to do that… what I see missing in the whole landscape of statistics and reports and more data and more scientific research was actually the experience of what it’s like to be affected by HIV in the south. So [in the film], stylistically and structurally we don’t have expert interviews, we don’t have statistics, we don’t even have calls to action because really, this is just about wanting to show the fragility of the system across the south… What was missing in this whole picture was actually the stories. Oftentimes when journalists come in, they’ll tell stories through old templates, so you’ll notice things like the anecdotal lead with someone who is in infected… then we dive into the statistics and talk about what the statistics show, and then we end with something about this person and how they’re coping and how they have become an activist for the cause. I looked around at how HIV was being reported and it was the most tired topic [the way it was being covered].
Emily Klukas of the Latino Commission on AIDS (EK): In an interview with POZ magazine, you said “the issues that drive HIV seemed to be much more entrenched than I first thought. Searching for HIV in the South was like using my GPS to find fragile communities.” Can you say a little more about this?
LB: When I say HIV is my GPS to really fragile places in our country, what that means is that when I find high rates of HIV I find high rates of a lot of social ills: high teen pregnancy rates, high incarceration rates high STD rates, high school dropout rates, so you see that something is going on in this environment, and that’s what deep south is about, a look at the environmental risks of an infectious disease. We try to reframe how we think about HIV to match what is really going on.
EK: I want to get back to talking about activism. I know you have training as a journalist, and as an artist and a filmmaker, how do you see yourself in these terms?
I do consider myself a journalist; I don’t consider myself an activist. I think that what I’ve been trying to do is chronically experience what it’s like to be affected by HIV in an area where there are few resources and a lot of great solutions and a lot of patchwork solutions. I’ve been asked that actually in journalism settings; [people say] “this is an activist type of film” and I actually don’t think it is, it actually doesn’t say anything…the only thing I think you can get out of this “huh, something’s kinda going on in the deep south that doesn’t seem right.”… There’s really no call to action, and when we were at Shine the Light on Monday, I was so heartened by the researchers and the advocates and professionals in the room who dedicate their lives to this, and how they were embracing the film as well, but I don’t think it’s a clarion call forward. The only thing it might be is a wake-up call to the actual reality of what’s going on.
EK: In terms of the conference, I’ve been attending sessions and talking to people about their experiences at sessions, and there’s a lot of talk about the biomedical side, like PrEP and Treatment as Prevention, which is great. And there’s a lot of talk about behavioral, which is great too. Of course you can’t have the biomedical without the behavioral. But what isn’t being said, I think, is this structural and environment stuff. We’re talking about behavior and medicine, these are all individual level things, and interpersonal with your provider. But there’s this whole environment that people live in every single day and I think what I really love about your film is this beautiful and subtle way of looking at the whole thing at once. In research we deconstruct, and take thing apart in bits and pieces, and there’s definitely a benefit to this… but the world doesn’t work like that, the world works in this array, with all these moving pieces influencing each other and so I think that’s one aspect of your film I really appreciate.
For a preview of the film, you can visit http://www.deepsouthfilm.com
For more information on Latinos in the Deep South, please contact Erik Valera, firstname.lastname@example.org or Yanira Arias, email@example.com
Interview by Emily Klukas