When only the truth will do

Updated: 2010-12-09 10:17

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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When only the truth will do
The cast (from left) Hu Zetao, Li Danyang, Zhang Ziyi and Jiang Wenli
 promote Gu Changwei's new film and documentary in Beijing. Photos
 Provided to China Daily

Gu Changwei's feature film about AIDS comes with a documentary about the real roles of six HIV-positive people who worked on the movie. Liu Wei reports

Fiction is not powerful enough for director Gu Changwei, whose new feature film, Life is a Miracle, is the subject of Together, a documentary about AIDS patients. Six HIV-positive people joined the film crew for Miracle, a bitter romance about two youngsters affected by the fatal disease. Zhang Ziyi and Aaron Kwok lead the cast.

Gu invited the HIV-positive crew members to make the film more convincing, and to emphasize his team's anti-discriminatory attitude to those afflicted with the disease. Before filming, Gu's wife Jiang Wenli, who also stars in the film, suggested he make a documentary at the same time. Jiang has worked as an ambassador for AIDS prevention for eight years.

"You will see in the documentary how people interact with the patients," Gu tells China Daily.

It was a tough task, however, for director Zhao Liang, who directed the documentary under Gu's supervision, to find six HIV-positive people who were willing to be filmed.

Zhao started with online communities for the group. He talked to them and won their trust before making the invitation. Still, most of them refused him.

"My mother would collapse if she saw me on the screen," one HIV-positive person told Zhao. "Nobody will talk to me if they know I am an HIV carrier," said another.

Zhao talked to about 60 AIDS patients before six finally agreed to work on the set, or star in the film. Even so, half of them insisted their faces were covered.

When only the truth will do
Gu Changwei shows how people interact with AIDS patients in the documentary Together.
Among the three who did agree to have their faces shown was 12-year-old Hu Zetao, a student at Red Ribbon School, an institute for 16 children with AIDS in Shanxi province. Hu's mother died of AIDS when he was 4. He lives with his father and stepmother. When Gu's crew went to Hu's home, they found the family ate separately from the boy. After they finished the meal, he washed his bowl alone.

The scene was captured in Together. Gu told Hu to recall his experiences of being bullied by people and cry as loudly as he could. He immediately did so and could not stop for many minutes.

Hu's teacher Liu Qian worked on the set, too, taking care of the child. Liu has been HIV-positive for 10 years, after an illegal blood transfusion. To her 16 students, the pretty woman is like a loving mother.

The middle-aged Xia, from Shanghai will not reveal how he got the disease. He was the actors' stand-in to test the lighting.

"If my face can change people's attitudes toward the disease even a bit, then let it be uncovered," he says in the documentary.

Xia's biggest dream is to find a stable job in Shanghai. Presently, he cannot even find a place to get his hair cut, as barbers know he has the disease and refuse his custom.

Xia had to leave the set prematurely because he became ill. Before he left he went to every crew and cast member to say goodbye, including Zhang and Kwok.

"I thank everybody," he says in the documentary, "because nobody here discriminated against me".

After three months of shooting, Hu Zetao's family now eat with him. Liu works at the school, taking care of her children, while Xia is still looking for a job.

Living with HIV-positive people affected the crew. At the beginning of the documentary, one crew member was too scared to open his mouth when he knew he was sitting beside an HIV patient. At the film's end he said he now knows the importance of respect.

Not all were equally courageous, though. Two crew members quit the film when they knew HIV carriers were working with them.

Jiang Wenli and other actors tried to build trust between the team members. Zhang Ziyi's niece and Jiang's children visited the set and played happily with Hu Zetao.

"Respect is not about vain speech, it is action. When our colleagues saw my children play with the patients, they learned something," Jiang says.

Several medical experts stayed with the crew, too, providing knowledge of the disease and preventative measures.

When the documentary wrapped up, director Zhao Liang took an HIV test.

"I did that to tell everybody, it is totally OK to befriend these patients if you know how the disease spreads," he says. "They are not guilty, they need our love and respect."

The 84-minute documentary has been regularly screened for free at Beijing's Broadway Cinematheque since Dec 1, with English subtitles. Life is a Miracle will hit theaters in early 2011.


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