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This Month in HIV: A Podcast of Critical News in HIV

Restarting the Conversation on HIV/AIDS in the United States

An Interview With Susan Koch and Jose Antonio Vargas of The Other City

April 29, 2010

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Myles Helfand: There's going to be, hopefully, a very broad range of people that end up watching this film. So I suppose there's any number of different messages that people could take away, depending on who they are and what they choose to focus on. But is there a particular thing that you're hoping will come out of this film? Who are you most hoping to reach? And do you see this film as providing a way forward?


Jose Antonio Vargas: I'll let Susan answer that question.

Susan Koch: I hope that people will get a lot of different things from it. I mean, I think that's always the challenge when you do a film, because you want to reach those who are in the midst of it -- like, a lot of folks [who visit] will know this issue very well, and you hope that they still can learn something and identify with it. And you also hope that people who know nothing will learn something and be interested in it.

What we most want to do is, we want to restart this conversation. We want people to start, from all different walks of life -- whether you're intimately involved in this, or whether you know nothing -- to become engaged and say, you know, this is a collective issue. This is about all of us. And we want to start; we need to deal with this.

"Films can't solve problems. If they could, you know, whoa; we'd be funded a lot more readily. But what we can do is, we can raise awareness, and we can start the conversation. I think that if we can do that, we will have done what we set out to do."

-- Susan Koch

Films can't solve problems. If they could, you know, whoa; we'd be funded a lot more readily. But what we can do is, we can raise awareness, and we can start the conversation. I think that if we can do that, we will have done what we set out to do.

Jose Antonio Vargas: I think the biggest lesson to take away, too, is, you have to meet people where they're at. That was something I had to really learn because I didn't -- there was one point, for example, when I was spending all that time with the support group for HIV-positive ex-cons, but I couldn't quite understand. My reality was so different from theirs. Before I even started reporting on it, there was so much judgment I had in my head about who these men were, and the kind of lives they must have led, and how they got to where they got.

And again, this idea of, as Susan had said, having a common humanity. Susan had mentioned that we taught a class at Georgetown. She would kindly give me a ride home after class. At one point, when we were both kind of overwhelmed, she said to me, "How do we end this? What is the solution?" And of course, there is no solution. It's not like Susan and I are creating some sort of a vaccine here. That's not what we've done. All we've done is, as Susan had said, hopefully restart the conversation.

At the end of the day, the stories, I think, speak very clearly and very loudly and very eloquently for themselves. And the camera, thankfully; there are so many scenes in the film that I think a lot of people probably hadn't seen before. This is a documentary; it's not a fiction film. And I think that's something to take away, as well.

Myles Helfand: You know, it's interesting. You talk about restarting the conversation, and this film is being featured at Tribeca, one year after another HIV-related film was featured at Tribeca, the last one being House of Numbers, which actually called into question whether HIV even causes AIDS.


Movie poster for The Other City

All rights reserved. © 2010 Cabin Films

It's interesting to see the juxtaposition. That was the HIV-related film of Tribeca last year. And this year, it's The Other City.

Jose Antonio Vargas: That's great.

Susan Koch: Yeah. I haven't seen that film, but I've heard about it. And I will guarantee you one thing: this film does not call into question that [HIV causes AIDS].

Jose Antonio Vargas: We're not even on the same planet when it comes to that discussion. We're not starting at that point.

Myles Helfand: So this film is being screened a couple times, at least, during the Tribeca Film Festival.

Jose Antonio Vargas: There are four times, and there's a press screening.

Susan Koch: This is our world premiere, at the Tribeca Film Festival. And then, in late June, we're already slated to be at another film festival. We will have our D.C. premiere, which is very exciting for us, with the SilverDocs Film Festival. And then we'll be going hopefully around the country with this. We have been invited to the World AIDS Conference. So I hope there are a lot of opportunities for people to see the film. But the first step is, obviously, New York City, Tribeca Film Festival. You can find out about tickets if you go to --

Jose Antonio Vargas:

Susan Koch: Or, I was going to say, You can get tickets from their Web site. And then, of course, our Web site,

Jose Antonio Vargas: And you can put your e-mail address and sign up, so we'll keep you posted. Of course, please friend us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Very important.

Myles Helfand: Honestly, I feel like I could talk with you guys about this for another ever. I've already taken you more than twice as long as I had promised to, and I don't want to take any more of your time. So we should wrap up. But I cannot possibly thank the both of you enough. You're both just so honest and open and empathetic, and it really shines through. If any amount of that comes through in the film, it's going to be a really powerful, really important movie to see.

Susan Koch: Well, thank you.

Jose Antonio Vargas: Thank you so much.

Susan Koch: It's nice to talk to you. We're big fans of your work. I just think if we could make a small little dent in what you all do, then that would be great. So thank you.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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Copyright © 2010 Body Health Resources Corporation. All rights reserved. Podcast disclaimer.

This podcast is a part of the series This Month in HIV. To subscribe to this series, click here.


This article was provided by TheBody. It is a part of the publication This Month in HIV.
See Also
J'Mia Edwards, "Public Face of AIDS in the District" Makes a Fresh Start, Film Debut
More on HIV in Films
13 Moments in Black Celebrity Activism
History's Biggest HIV-Positive Celebrities

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Flo (New Jersey ) Wed., Jul. 3, 2013 at 3:57 pm UTC
Is there any way I can obtain a video of The Other Ciy through some sort of donation so that I can play it at my support group meeting at the Ocean County Health Department ?
Reply to this comment

Comment by: C (Berkeley, CA) Wed., Oct. 27, 2010 at 5:03 am UTC
I read the interview and would love to see the film. I feel like I'm one of the people lost in the crack of programs that must be out there.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Cazz (Brandon/Tampa Florida) Tue., Sep. 28, 2010 at 10:20 am UTC
When will the film be shown in my area. I work in the field and have been for ten years now. Recently moved to Florida from upstate NY and worked in one of the poorest areas of my city which by the title of your film fits The Other City criteria. Now that I have moved to the south, it seems that we are last on the list to receive information all the time.The South region as a whole would fall under the criteria of "The Other Region" because nothing is being done about the epidemic or shopuld I say not enough is being done. When will the film be shown here or are we even on the list of cities to view the film. Florida is number three after New York and California we should have been the third stop to view the film. If not my area at least somehwere in the state of Florida. The South is the number one region for all HIV/AIDS infections in the US and again we are last to get the news. The areas that need the information are the last to receieve and as the film shows poverty stricken areas are the last to get the news. People in high places should see this movie but people in low places they want and NEED to see movies like this. It helps them know, they are not alone and someone is trying to do something. If the areas that are in the "Other City" do not know support is out there how will they maintain HOPE. Isn't that what we preach or encourage, Have Hope and you can make it, well when the support gets to you, but have Hope. How can we get our state on that, list.
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Comment by: Susan Fay (Indianapolis, IN) Mon., Jun. 7, 2010 at 3:46 pm UTC
I can't wait to see the film. I have worked in the HIV field for 20+ years. I, too, am frustrated that HIV numbers are not going down. Please bring your film to the Harm Reduction Conference in Austin TX this year.
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Comment by: Mark (NE) Wed., May. 12, 2010 at 1:23 am UTC
I have been doing studies at NIH for the last 13+ years. This interview supports totally a statement that was made by one of my doctors. He said that DC needs a Marshall Plan to cope with the HIV/AIDS crisis in Washington. I can remember back to early '98 one especially provocative awareness program done by the Whitman-Walker Clinic. I think it was almost too good because of the reaction it provoked. Two adult males in bed one on top of the other, face to face. A simple caption read "Let's talk about AIDS". A great deal of excrement hit the fan over those awareness posters. The posters were removed after 3 days. I dont think I have seen anything that effective, before or since, anyplace I have ever been. I would hope that that bit of awareness could be repeated today and to hell with peoples tender sensibilities!!!!
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Comment by: Michael (Canada) Sat., May. 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm UTC
It seem' that HIV/Aids as been put on the back burner we hardly ever hear about it anymore...why is that and all this sigtma that surrounds it.
I mean c'mon people its not by not talking about it that it will fade away.
Passing needles to addicts is to me just a part of the solution (reducing the risk of addicts getting infected) but for these human beings they should be more centers for them so they could undergo therapy with a follow-up attacking the problem of addiction at the source.

Is compassion over rated is that where we have come to I truly hope not.

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Comment by: Lee Scott Townsend (Portland, ME) Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 12:31 am UTC
i literally stumbled across this article while mindlessly surfing the internet, and was so touched and moved; that i chose this as my "Pay-Forward" project from the Facebook event: Pay It Forward Day!

As a gay male who has been HIV+ for nearly 25 years, i wanted to do something cause a spark and ignite a resurgence in HIV and AIDS visibility, awareness, and education!

i wrote and published a note on Facebook, "Revitalizing the Awareness of HIV and AIDS in the United States", which is my attempt to begin a new journey in my life, leading me to a new path; in pursuit of my Destiny! I also, took the liberty of sharing the article from here on my profile and feeds pages!

Here's hoping that in some small way, my article will ignite a spark that will usher in a new era awareness, education, toleration, and discussion!

If nothing else, it is sure to stir a bit of controversy and discussion!
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Comment by: Tommy Chittenden (Indianapolis, IN) Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 4:26 pm UTC
Is it possible to purchase a copy of this documentary? If so, please let me know how to do so.

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