A feature documentary about the AIDS crisis in the UK was released last month after previewing at cinemas across the country. Dukes at Komedia hosted a special screening of After 82 followed by a Q&A with directors and long-term partners Ben Lord and Steve Keeble prior to the release. After 82: The Untold Story of the AIDS Pandemic features the story of Terry Higgins, who died from AIDS in July 1982 and shares what his friends did afterwards. Co-director Steve explains: “It’s not the medical, it’s the personal stories and as far as we know that’s never been done before, certainly not in the UK and so it stands as a testament to the people that we lost.” Some of the stories had never been told before and are extremely moving.
The film begins by grabbing your attention with the question, ‘What would you do if a deadly virus wiped out your circle of friends and lovers?’ Narrated by Dominic West (who played Jonathon Blake in the film Pride), After 82 commemorates and celebrates those who were lost to AIDS and gives an insight into the lives of those living with the virus. Co-director Ben said about the making of the film: “People shared such personal stories and that was a lot of responsibility and also a privilege.” The film also shows how these personal connections led to the establishment of the Terrence Higgins Trust.
However, it is the private moments which hit the hardest. Actor and activist Johnathan Blake, one of the first people diagnosed with HIV in the UK, talks about suicide. Emotional stories from during the AIDS crisis and the use of AZT (zidovudine drug) show how people with the disease were treated like test subjects in drug trials. The heartbreak and the fight against discrimination make for hard-hitting viewing. The effect of HIV and AIDS on mental health is also highlighted; an additional silent killer of isolation with many men feeling prohibited from speaking emotionally.
The film was initially envisioned as a short documentary, but Steve said so many people came forward to be interviewed that in the end a decision was made to focus on the earliest interviews. When talking about the making of the film and challenges he said: “It was made on about £23,000 and most of that was spent on archives, with it costing about £100 per second. But, the most difficult thing was: where do you start? Everyone had said such poignant words and what do you take out? That was the most difficult part of making the film.”
The film shows how there was a lot of information about the problem (AIDS) but very little knowledge of the causes. The social stigma was rife, alongside ignorance and prejudices. But the film tells truthfully ways in which the LGBT community came together with hope. What was shared during the Q&A was really moving, Ben and Steve explained they had received hostility and abuse which they believe is due to them having made the film. Steve said: “We had someone outside our house saying: ‘So how long have you been spreading AIDS for, and do you think this film is really going to make a difference?’” After having taken approximately seven years to complete and to have shared people’s stories so honestly, this was hard to hear. Ben added: “But we thought: no, you’re not going to stop us from allowing these people to have their stories heard.” With that, has come one of the most important documents of the AIDS pandemic. Ben said: “We interviewed some young people living with HIV and it is interesting to hear their experiences of living with HIV in the 21st century compared to those diagnosed in the 80s. I think that would be a really interesting contrast.”
Steve said he felt especially honoured to preview the film for Brighton’s strong LGBT community during Pride Month. “It was a real struggle to make the film,” he said. “But we are never going to give up. A film had to be made and we are proud of the people coming to see it.”