POZlife

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Return this ‘Gift’

Posted by pozlife on May 26, 2006

Washington Blade – January 16, 2004
Brian Moylan

Louise Hogarth’s documentary, ‘The Gift,’ which explores barebacking among gay men, suffers from sloppy, sensational reporting.

MANY GAY MEN and lesbians know from anecdotal evidence or their own experiences that bareback sex (anal intercourse without condoms) is going on. This behavior is definitely dangerous, with some claiming the activity is widespread and others arguing that its scope is limited.

The same claims are made about “bug-chasers,” men who seek to become infected with HIV, and “gift-givers,” those who want to infect HIV-negative men with the virus.

Bug-chasers, gift-givers, and the pervasiveness of bareback sex is the subject of the documentary “The Gift” by lesbian documentarian Louise Hogarth. The film, winner of the Best Documentary Award at the 2003 NewFest/New York Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, airs on the Sundance Channel at 11 p.m. on Feb. 2, and at three other much later, middle-of-the-night times next month.

“The Gift” made its D.C. debut at the Reel Affirmations film festival in October, and premieres nationwide on the Sundance Channel as part of the “KNOW HIV/AIDS” campaign. The campaign involves a partnership between the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and media conglomerate Viacom in which they use selected media outlets to highlight information about the virus with public service announcements, programming and specials.

With “The Gift,” Horgarth said she wanted to generate conversations about HIV again.

“I’ve lost friends, and I think that there’s a lot of complacency [about HIV],” she said. “I think [bug-chasing] is a fringe activity, but I think that barebacking isn’t on the fringe. If you’re barebacking in this community, you’re at great risk, and that’s the norm.”

“THE GIFT” HIGHLIGHTS TWO men, Doug and “Kenboy” (neither of whom are identified by their last names), who were bug-chasers. After becoming HIV-positive, Doug is unhappy with his decision but Kenboy is relieved to not have to worry about the possibility of infection anymore. He even throws a bareback sex party for his birthday, where his goal is to have unprotected sex with as many men as possible.

Some in the film, including psychoanalyst Dr. Walt Odets, blame this activity on survivor guilt and the failure of HIV-prevention campaigns by gay health organizations.

“In the beginning of the epidemic, people were ostracized and not embraced and the gay community embraced people who were infected,” Hogarth said. “But we didn’t think this disease would be around so long. The gay community has made it positive to be positive, and the pendulum has swung too far.”

What Hogarth doesn’t offer in the documentary, however, is enough scientific evidence to support or refute the claims made by people she speaks with.

“I just did research by talking to people and looking on the Web,” she told the Blade. “I think [statistics] are boring, I’m trying to keep people’s attention.”

In some circles, this works. A jury at the NewFest, the New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, selected “The Gift” as Best Documentary last year, along with a film titled “I Exist.” Festival organizers said they honored Hogarth for her “commitment and courage to bring a controversial topic to the attention of the general public.”

“The jury felt it was an important topic that, while difficult to address, needs to be addressed,” said Basil Tsiokos, director of New Fest. “[Hogarth] was able to get people to talk about the subject and did her part to get the message out.”

Hogarth certainly will get the audience’s attention and “The Gift” should generate conversations about HIV-prevention efforts. But a lack of solid reporting about this problem makes this documentary lackluster at best. To really shine, it should include concrete facts as well as anecdotal evidence about what still remains a complicated crisis.

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