Critics' Pick

Fire in the Blood (NR)

Documentary 84 September 13, 2013
By Daphne Howland
Fear, greed, and cowardice have a way of sullying things like medical breakthroughs. In the mid-1990s, the antiviral drugs that checked the AIDS crisis separated the meaning of "HIV positive" from full-blown AIDS because, for the first time, the existence of the virus in the blood was not a death sentence. That was a triumph, largely paid for by government agencies like the National Institutes of Health. But it felt like a miracle. In Fire in the Blood, his documentary on the pharmaceutical keep-away that perpetuated the AIDS emergency in Africa and elsewhere, director Dylan Mohan Gray describes how protective patent laws guaranteed not only profits for pharmaceutical companies but also the deaths of more than 10 million AIDS sufferers. He maintains a merciless calm throughout, aided by William Hurt's low, slow, careful narration, as he documents a case of stupendous disregard for humanity. Because miracles are rare and patents are ironclad, drug companies could charge $15,000 per person per year for the new cocktail. That gouged anyone who could pay it-- health insurance companies, the well-off and well-insured, government programs like Medicaid and Medicare-- and left out anyone who couldn't. Especially disheartening is the helplessness of doctors, who knew about the combination therapy but couldn't offer it to their patients. Gray's images are exquisite and unsparing, and Fire in the Blood is artful in nearly every frame, perhaps so we don't avert our eyes. We can't; Big Pharma is relentless and, thanks to a new international trade agreement that once again favors its patents, this isn't over.
Dylan Mohan Gray Zackie Achmat, Peter Mugyenyi, Bill Clinton, James Love, Yusuf Hamied, Edwin Cameron, Eric Goemaere, Desmond Tutu, Joseph Stiglitz, Noor Jehan Majid Dylan Mohan Gray International Film Circuit

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