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
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 TheBody.com] 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.
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: Theothercity.com.
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.
Copyright © 2010 Body Health Resources Corporation. All rights reserved. Podcast disclaimer.
This article was provided by TheBody. It is a part of the publication This Month in HIV.
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