OUR BOY has done good. Again. Local semi-celebrity filmmaker Lance Bangs spent last spring making a film in the dreaded "Western Charity Tries to Save Africa" genre—except that his resulting short film, The Lazarus Effect, breathes sincere life and inspiration into the often schlocky world of AIDS movies.
"I've seen enough horrible documentaries that objectify people or assign them victimhood status," says Bangs, speaking from his home in Southeast Portland. "That was pretty appalling to me, and was not the film I wanted to make."
Last April, Bangs and friend Spike Jonze were just finishing up last year's acclaimed, honest documentary Tell Them Anything You Want (about Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak), when an organizer from AIDS awareness group (RED) asked Bangs to fly to Zambia to film in AIDS clinics. Bangs landed in the country where one in seven people have HIV, and he arrived without even his full slew of standard vaccines.
The Lazarus Effect follows the astounding transformation in Zambian AIDS patients as they begin to receive antiretroviral drugs, a life-prolonging pharmaceutical cocktail that has been available for years in the West, but is just starting to make its way into African clinics Photos show patients on the edge of death, barely breathing between ribs that nearly jut through their skin. But just months later, those same patients dance, sing, and laugh onscreen in Bangs' film.
There's no heavy-handed Western narrator here to explain the crisis. There are only the patients and their nurses, all HIV positive, discussing their lives and laughing in joy at their successes, backed by a lively Chicago brass-band soundtrack rather than the cliché tribal drums or Graceland-style songs. It's a hopeful film. It's a vibrant film.
"I wanted to talk to people directly and get them to open up and be funny or goofy or whatever personality traits they have that don't usually come out in AIDS documentaries," says Bangs.For a complete transcript of our interview with Lance Bangs, visit blogtown.portlandmercury.com.