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deepsouth Documentary Film: OFFICIAL SELECTION for Human Rights Watch Film Festival Traveling Tour 2013-2014
2014-09-26 10:12:39

The Nation Press -
Nasser Shariff
*Please note the spelling of deepsouth is one word, no capitalization

deepsouth is a documentary about the rural American South and the people who inhabit its most quiet corners. Beneath layers of history, poverty -- and now soaring HIV infections -- four Americans redefine traditional Southern values to create their own solutions to survive,” (

I had the opportunity to spend time with Lisa Biagiotti the director of deepsouth documentary film prior to its screening when she visited a TV production course I took at the University of Michigan- Dearborn. She spoke about the film’s premise and what motivated her to make such a film.  She shared that she found statistics online about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the southern United States.  One such statistic is that the death rate from HIV/AIDS is 50 percent higher than the rate of deaths due to AIDS in the rest of the country. She also stated that the South has the highest rate of poverty, the highest number of uninsured people, the highest rate of incarceration, and the highest rate of STD infection. With that, she decided to go to the South making a 4000 hours trip during which she drove more than 13,000 miles across the South. The video shooting took place in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama where she found the film elements. The project took her 2.5 years including the research she conducted.  She studied the lay of the land, networked, and got to know the people who would eventually help her to make the film very deeply. The documentary arose from interviews with 400 people including advocates, activists, preachers, health workers, and HIV positive individuals.  This impressed me very much because it showed that she wanted to have a very thorough understanding of the topic and the individuals whose voices would be represented in the film.  I felt that she was a true advocate for this community of people who are suffering from AIDS, because she did not exploit their stories and she gave them the necessary time and attention in order to give a holistic view of their struggles.  Naturally, she did not include all the interviews she conducted in the film.

The documentary focused on four people who were the main subjects –two of the four subjects are positively diagnosed with HIV. In addition, there was mention of some other people who also are HIV positive. The main subjects in the documentary are involved in the battle against the apathy towards AIDS and HIV victims of the South.  They each play a role, through inner and outer struggles, to reverse the sheer neglect of AIDS and HIV victims in the South.  The four subjects’ names are Joshua Alexander, Monica Johnson, Tamela King, and Kathie Hiers. Joshua Alexander is a college student. The virus was transmitted to him from his neighbor who molested him when he was a child. Joshua appeared in the film seeking the support of an underground gay family who were miles away from his suffocating Mississippi delta hometown.  Monica Johnson is an activist who is HIV positive. She tested positive 26 years ago. Monica and Tamela King organize an HIV retreat annually to build solidarity amongst those who are HIV positive and equip them with a support system and resources that they may need and/or benefit from.  Monica explained in the documentary that their organization does not have enough funds for the retreat except for a few resources that their survival as an organization completely depends on. The retreat is held in Louisiana and Monica is its director. Kathie Hiers is another activist who is from Alabama and advocates for HIV and AIDS victims. She is very active although she is an elderly member of the community. Kathy meets with government officials to help change the attitude of the South towards AIDS. Kathy spends 120 days a year on the road fighting the bureaucracy that continues to ignore the South.


Source : The Nation Press
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