Reflections from our Last Men Standing film screening

By: Arjun Shankar

Yesterday evening, Reel Causes, in partnership with the Positive Living Society of BC and the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, screened the documentary Last Men Standing. The film screening was a tremendous success, not only because Last Men Standing was moving and well made; but because our community of partners and supporters brought with them the vulnerability and resilience heralded in the film. I seldom saw a face in the audience not smiling, even through tears; and ultimately, this was and is the real testament to the evening. As someone with neither HIV or AIDS, I still felt like I was part of the community and more importantly, I realized that this issue is truly and necessarily representative of ALL of us. If nothing else (and there is more), I am very grateful to have shared in this lesson.

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The plot of the film is centered around eight HIV/AIDS survivors, each relaying accounts of their trials and achievements over the course of a lifetime—a lifetime that many said couldn’t and wouldn’t happen. This itself is a cause to celebrate, not only for the survivors, but for everyone who needs to be reminded that there is great hope and determination within the human spirit. The film also highlighted the gap between an improving set of medical prescriptions to alleviate HIV/AIDS symptoms, and an underrepresented social service system, particularly with respect to older LGBTQ individuals. Another noteworthy point was the understanding that HIV and AIDS are not exclusively LGBTQ or North American issues; in fact the majority of the world’s affected demographic is neither. What this means is that in addition to medical and bureaucratic support mechanisms, building capacity to address this issue requires knowledge, broad mindedness and empathy.

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When I returned home yesterday night, I thought about what I had actually learned and why it was valuable for me to be part of the event. The facts are very important and have to be shared so that people don’t forget: HIV and AIDS is an ongoing battle, one that is being waged every waking moment by those who must not be forgotten. In fact, one of the most powerful moments in the evening, from my perspective, was hearing people speak the names of loved ones who had passed on from HIV and AIDS. When those names were being said, I cried. Not because I understood firsthand all the details of their remarkable stories, or because I knew them—but because I could feel the love and sorrow with which they were spoken. This is the social memory that allows all of us to be part of this movement. And why I’m so grateful that we could all be a part of it.

Arjun Shankar is a lawyer, musician and Reel Causes board member.

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