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After 82

Five years ago my partner, Ben Lord and I started working on a documentary short about a man living with HIV. The documentary explored how he managed the illness, the stigma, the emotions and the day to day of just ‘living’. As filming progressed, we were amazed at the amount of stories that never been told before about the history of HIV in the UK and the impact on those affected by it. People wanted to be interviewed about their own personal experiences of HIV: how they lived with the virus, how they saw lovers, friends and families die and how they themselves fought against the stigma of HIV. Over the last five years, our short film has evolved into a feature length documentary about the first generation of HIV Survivors in the UK.

WE NEED YOUR HELP

Ben and myself have devoted ourselves to producing this film. On behalf of the ‘After 82’ team, a huge thanks to all of our supporters over the last five years. Your support, donations and time have been a wonderful source of inspiration and motivation to Ben and I. It has helped both of us continue our project. However, challenging at times filming has been, Ben and I have only had to look at our supporters to keep going. In light of this, both Ben and I would like to ask all our current supporters for a final push. As many of you are aware, the making of ‘After 82’ has relied on donations from people like you. In order for Ben and I to complete this documentary, we are in need of funding. Please do what you can to help. It would be amazing to donate however small via our website, our social media pages on Facebook and Twitter as well as sharing and spreading the links to ‘After 82’ to as many people you know. Those supporters who donate financially will receive credits at the end of film, once released. Thank you for taking time to read the website. We would not be here without our supporters. The world needs this film. Please help us complete it – by supporting through donations and fundraising. ‘After 82’ commemorates, celebrates and educates people about the story of the HIV crisis in the UK from the eighties until now. Join our movement.
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After 82 Blog

Five years ago my partner, Ben Lord and I started working on a documentary short about a man living with HIV. The documentary explored how he managed the illness, the stigma, the emotions and the day to day of just ‘living’. As filming progressed, we were amazed at the amount of stories that never been told before about the history of HIV in the UK and the impact on those affected by it. People wanted to be interviewed about their own personal experiences of HIV: how they lived with the virus, how they saw lovers, friends and families die and how they themselves fought against the stigma of HIV. Over the last five years, our short film has evolved into a feature length documentary about the first generation of HIV Survivors in the UK.  ‘After 82’ is a labour of love and a personal journey. Along the way, I have interviewed people my own age growing up in the 1980’s, facing similar crises as myself and much more. On one hand the eighties were a great time to grow up. As children then, we reaped the benefits of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the late sixties. Such a liberating time. Of course there was still a long way to go for the lowering of the age of consent and equal marriage. But this was the dawn of the 1980’s and gay men wanted to have fun and embrace their youth.  The last five years of filming and shaping this documentary, has made me realise how much of my loss and emotion from that time, I had locked away and buried. At the heart of ‘After 82’ are the thoughts, hopes, trauma and dreams of so many gay men during that time. I and my partner Ben, understood very soon into the filming, that the very essence of this documentary would be the untold stories and the forgotten pain and sacrifice of the gay community in a time of fear and despair. I came on to the gay scene in Cambridge and made many friends at the infamous 451 club. I recall the time when I and a whole army of screaming young queens piled on to a coach for a day out to Brighton or Pride in London (it was gay pride in my day!). I remember how members of the public and police were hostile towards us. But as a group of gay men in that moment, no one cared.  It was a time to fight back and celebrate homosexuality with pride, a time to be out and proud.  Slowly, I began to hear about a ‘cancer’ that was claiming the lives of gay men. I felt initially alarmed but tried not to worry about it. Until eventually it began to claim friend of friends and then dear friends of mine too. That was when I realized this virus was real. HIV was knocking on the door of my community. A barrage of thoughts ran through me: What was this virus? Where did it come from? Why was it attacking gay men?  How did you catch this virus? I was petrified of this virus and like the majority of gay men; I devoured with fear what little information was out there. Soon it became clear that this virus could be contracted through penetrative sex. This was a wake-up call for so many of us in my community. I had to look at how I lived my life. In particular, adapting my sexual behaviour with current and future partners. Not only was I seeing my world fading away but at the same time seeing it denigrated and judged by the media and society. “AIDS Spreaders”. News headlines were being published on a daily basis screaming “Gays spread killer AIDS virus” or “Gay teachers with AIDS is allowed to teach kids” and society pages claiming gay men were “AIDS Spreaders”. I remember how members of the public would just move away from me and my friends thinking they would get infected simply by standing next to gay men. The arrival of AIDS did not destroy sex but the possibility of love. Love and intimacy go hand in hand and the thought that something could potentially, or if not indefinitely destroy this was a frightening prospect. I became scared of being intimate with someone in case I was putting them or they were putting me at risk. I wanted to find love. But back then, finding love meant risking my life.  It felt so unfair. Especially, as I had spent so long denying myself of who I really was. Being brought up in a homophobic environment, I had spent my childhood too afraid of being gay. When I did come out, I fought back against the bigotry and prejudice with a fire in my belly. I was so happy and excited to be out to myself and everyone else that I didn’t want anything to stop it. With this in mind, I was determined not to let HIV ruin my life and that of others I cared about. From that moment, I made sure I was cautious and protected myself and partners as best as I could. There are many sad stories from that time, that I remember well and have deeply affected me. One of my good friends was subjected to homophobic bullying at home and school when he was young. As soon as he was old enough he fled to the bright lights of London. He found himself a surrogate family in the gay community and fell madly in love. His dream was to always set up home with a man that loved him for who he was and raise a family of their own. Whilst they were in the midst of discussing children themselves, he found out that his sister was having a baby. The only member of his family he had remained in touch with since leaving home to live in London. He was over the moon to be an uncle. However, within days of hearing this news, he became very ill. He died shortly after. He never met his nephew. His story mirrored many similar tragedies in the UK and across the world. Sadly, some of these stories have gone untold. But for the countless lovers, friends and families left behind with the legacy of AIDS, their stories will never be forgotten. A few years into the HIV crisis, I worked for Freedom Cars (one of the first gay taxi firms in the UK). A lot of my work revolved around the driving of patients and families to and from the London Lighthouse and hospital appointments. The London Lighthouse was a sanctuary for people living with HIV, those dying of AIDS related illnesses and respite for their families and friends. Everyone regardless of their involvement with the Lighthouse had an air of peace and was very welcoming no matter who and what you were. One thing I always remember is when anyone died a candle was lit in their memory. The candles would flicker away in the reception area, lighting the path into the Lighthouse with the memory and spirit of those who had perished to AIDS. As Freedom Cars was regularly used by the London Lighthouse, I witnessed many people’s experiences as well as making some very dear friends. One hot day in July, I took a young man, only 23 years old, to hospital. He was very thin and frail and looked older then his years. While every one else was dressed in t-shirts and shorts this young man was dressed in layers and layers of clothes to keep warm even though it was boiling temperatures outside. After the hospital appointment I took him home to his boyfriend who was his main carer. On the way home the young man started to vomit uncontrollably in my taxi. He began to apologize profusely. He was so upset with himself. He insisted on cleaning up the vomit. I told him not to worry about it. But with every last ounce of energy he could muster, he dragged himself about the taxi to clean up the mess, waiting until the car was still in traffic to try and remove the waste. I couldn’t stop him. It felt to me as if he was determined to clear my cab of his sickness. Three days later, I found out that the young man had died. A candle was lit in his memory. As I paid homage to that brave young man, I felt a sick to the stomach with sadness, remembering friends, lovers and families affected by HIV. The London Lighthouse gave so many people at that time hope and peace. All these years later, I never would have thought I would be directing a documentary about the first generation of HIV survivors and their legacy. I never understood fully until the making of ‘After 82’ how much pain from that time I and so many others had suppressed. Through making this documentary, I have met countless people living and working in the field of HIV. I have heard poignant stories from the battlefields of HIV/AIDS. I have listened to those fighting the killer disease from the past and today, where HIV/AIDS is still a war to be won. This sentiment has been repeated numerous times from various people interviewed during the filming of ‘After 82’. I now fully understand with every ounce of my body the constant conflict HIV has created. I have the utmost compassion for all those brave enough to take part, contribute and support our film, ‘After 82’. However, it hasn’t been easy to make this documentary. Both Ben and I have been met with blocks, terse faces, and criticism. The subject matter is one close to many people’s hearts. It evokes powerful positive and negative emotional responses. I as a filmmaker do not pass judgement, but do ask for all those who have been against the making of this film, to reconsider and support us. Anything that shines a light on a topic that has never been documented will provoke debate. Until people acknowledge their pain and trauma and accept and forgive the past, they cannot move forward. But once they do accept the legacy of the past, they can empower those around them and truly celebrate the present and commemorate the what’s gone before. We all have a responsibility to tell not only the younger generation of the LGBT community but also the whole world about the stories of the first generation of HIV survivors. ‘After 82’ depicts the stories of young men, who, escaped homophobic abuse, to find love and refuge in the LGBT community only to die alone unwanted by their families, some in bedsits in London, the lovers who refused to grieve at the funeral of their boyfriends and the horrific tales of the ashes of dead sons flushed away down the toilets by their homophobic families. As well as this, there are many stories from people who lost friends to HIV and were left powerless. Each person interviewed during the making of ‘After 82’ shares the same stories as those reading this blog and the thousands of relatives, lovers and friends who have lost dear ones to HIV/AIDS all over the world. Ben and myself have devoted ourselves to producing this film. On behalf of the ‘After 82’ team, a huge thank you to all of our supporters over the last five years. Your support, donations and time have been a wonderful source of inspiration and motivation to Ben and I. It has helped both of us continue our project. However, challenging at times filming has been, Ben and I have only had to look at our supporters to keep going. In light of this, both Ben and I would like to ask all our current supporters for a final push. As many of you are aware, the making of ‘After 82’ has relied on donations from people like you reading this blog. In order for Ben and I to complete this documentary, we are in need of funding. Please do what you can to help. It would be amazing to donate however small via our website, our social media pages on Facebook and Twitter as well as sharing and spreading the links to ‘After 82’ to as many people you know. Those supporters who donate financially will receive credits at the end of film, once released. Thank you for taking time to read the blog. We would not be here without our supporters. The world needs this film. Please help us complete it – by supporting through donations and fundraising. ‘After 82’ commemorates, celebrates and educates people about the story of the HIV crisis in the UK from the eighties until now. Join our movement.
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