Reel Affirmations 2003
Rating: (4 out of 5)
Saturday, 10/18/2003, 1:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Lincoln Theatre
WHEN A FILM’S title graphic features a gun superimposed on an erect penis, you can kiss subtlety goodbye.
The Gift is the much ballyhooed and much condemned documentary about “bug-chasers” and “gift givers” — a.k.a. gay men who want to be infected with HIV, and the men who want to give it to them.
At the core of The Gift are interviews with two men who purposely sero-converted: Doug, a young man who delved ever-deeper into barebacking in San Francisco, eventually deciding that infection was inevitable; and Kenboy, a twenty-something internet porn star at the “L.A. Sexhouse,” where he stages his infection as something he needs so he can stop worrying, relax and “have fun.”
Counterpointing these two are San Francisco psychologist Walt Odets, who for years has been advocating for approaches to HIV prevention that speak to negative gay men honestly about the risks of HIV, and a group of HIV positive men who have all suffered serious illness and drug side-effects.
Opening cock/gun graphic aside, director Louise Hogarth’s documentary isn’t nearly as exploitative or scare-tactic filled as it could have been, and overall she does a good job of highlighting the entrenched problems of HIV prevention programs, and how both negative and positive people may interpret efforts to both prevent to the spread of the virus and support those already infected.
But some glaring problems conspire to undermine the film’s supposed message. Barebacking and bug-chasing, while they may look the same to frustrated prevention workers (or congressional staffers), are not the same phenomenon, yet Hogarth constantly conflates the two. And making a film about bug-chasing would seem to require having more than two so-called bug-chasers, especially when Doug says he never went to a gift-giving party.
Even a handful of voice-and-face-obscured interviews with both chasers and givers would have strengthened Hogarth’s hand. As it is, The Gift is a flawed, yet compelling, document of the changing nature of the epidemic.