As I wrote in the previous post, the screening committee chose two documentaries about HIV/AIDS to be screened at the health session: House of Numbers and the House is Small but the Welcome is Big. However, aside from the topic, there is nothing similar about these two films.
While House of Numbers presents the points of view of many of the “major players” in the HIV/AIDS field, The House is Small but the Welcome is Big definitely presents the points of view of the “forgotten players.” In a project started in 2006, Venice Arts photographers traveled to Africa to empower women and youth, who have been touched by the disease, to tell their own stories. Firstly, the photographers traveled to South Africa and provided HIV+ women, recent mothers and mothers to be, with cameras, so that the women could document their lives and share their stories with the world. Meanwhile, the crew filmed the women as they completed their projects. Since this initial project was a great success, the Venice Arts crew repeated the project with AIDS Orphans in Mozambique, by providing them with cameras and filming their incredible excursion.
The filmmakers’ main goal with this project was to move beyond the AIDS statistics and empower these women and teens to tell their own stories. There are 500,000 AIDS Orphans in Mozambique and over 30% of all orphans in Africa are AIDS Orphans, but the magnitude of those statistics is often hard to digest for an American college student like me. The filmmakers believe that storytelling is often a powerful form of social activism because these stories will influence people and cause them to act. For example, by watching a few clips of the documentary, I was made aware of 2 detrimental misconceptions that the women and teens wished to challenge. First, living with HIV is not the end of the world: the women in the film were often happy, they could have children, and most importantly, they bonded together and formed a community of support. Meanwhile, the teens want the public to know that AIDS Orphans are not necessarily HIV positive, and that their second-class treatment is undeserved.
This documentary reminds me a lot of a book I read in high school called Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago, in which two teens were given the task of documenting their lives in the projects of Chicago. Like the documentary, the book was very powerful and eye opening, and it made all the statistics I learned in class much clearer and more poignant.
I am very glad the screening committee chose the combination of these films because I think they will complement each other exceptionally well. House of Numbers is a film meant to stir the pot and create discussion. While some its interviewees make controversial claims, maybe those claims will help the scientific community discover more about the disease, its treatment, and its cure. Furthermore, the documentary informs the general audience of the debate within the scientific community that cannot simply be ignored. Meanwhile, the House is Small but the Welcome is Big reminds us of the importance of these discussions, while also challenging our perceptions of what it is really like to live a life affected by AIDS.
Enjoy the films,
PS (7/20) The House is Small but the Welcome is Big has a new name: Home is Where You Find It!