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Jason Evans on His Film "HIV: ID" (Watch It Now Free!)

By Indiewire | Indiewire December 9, 2011 at 5:36PM

Jason Evans on His Film "HIV: ID" (Watch It Now Free!)
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In his film, "HIV: ID" - available in its entirety at the bottom of this page courtesy of SnagFilms - filmmaker Jason Evans takes on a nationwide creative writing and documentary film project that features participants living with HIV/AIDS.

Image courtesy of filmmaker
Image courtesy of filmmaker

HIV: ID

Writer/Director: Jason Evans

10 mins.

The full film is available free on 

SnagFilms (and at the end of this article). This interview with Jason Evans is part of a series of SnagFilm filmmaker profiles that will be featured weekly on Indiewire.  

[Editor's Note:  SnagFilms is the parent company of Indiewire.]
 

Your movie: In 140 characters or less, what's it about? 

30 years ago, HIV was an assumed death sentence. Today, HIV is treatable and preventable. HIV: USA supports viewers to know their status.
 

OK: Now tell us what it's really about.

I facilitate a cathartic creative workshop for individuals living with HIV. During this workshop we talk about medication adherence, stigma, disclosure and what it is like and what it means for participants to be "living" with the virus. These writings are then used in the film as the narrative to educate and encourage viewers who do not know of their HIV status, to get tested, wear condoms and be safer. HIV: USA films are state specific and feature state iconic imagery and state facts. They also attempt to feature all demographics as to not further stigmatize HIV out of fear or of being a "Gay Disease" or a "disease of drug users". There have been many campaigns based out of big cities like New York or L.A. but in my opinion they don't relate to middle America - which is most of the country, small towns with people who believe that HIV is not in their community. It is! And through the use of relating by imagery, for example, HIV: USA attempts to educate it's viewers in a nonjudgmental but also in a edutainment fashion.

The HIV: USA films have been used in clinic waiting rooms, screened at film festivals, been used as agency fundraisers, distributed to various state agencies and have won community awards. Data from HIV: USA was recently presented at the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention Conference at Indiana University. These pre and post surveys suggest that participants feel empowered and further contribute to educating their communities.

So tell us about yourself. What's your background? Why did you want to make movies?

I wanted people to take the HIV: USA project seriously as I did and wanting to bring it national level, I thought if that were going happen, then film school would give it some credibility. I was fortunate to be accepted into The Documentary Center at George Washington University.

Like many filmmakers however, I started making films as a kid. For me it was simply for the entertainment, to stimulate creativeness and to show my friends the final result of our work. I grew up in a small village with a population of near 300. There weren't many opportunities for creative kids. I didn't even know then that stories could change the world. 

I think what also helped is that I am a songwriter. Storytelling or in my case, songwriting was a good foray at becoming a filmmaker. With a song you have 3 minutes to tell your story, the beginning, middle and then resolve the end and with a short film you also have a limited time to both show and tell your story. Later, I began "borrowing" my dad's VHS camcorder and experimenting with storyline and structure. Growing up, I was also a big video rental enthusiast and it wasn't until years recent I realized that spending time watching all of those classics, docs and horror films, I was really studying the effect of camera movement, music and lighting.

What inspired you to make this movie?

I got into the field of HIV/AIDS prevention and education while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho. When I returned stateside I continued working in various capacities as an educator or case manager. However, it wasn't until 2008-'09 that I began to notice a paradigm shift in prevention and education. A shift that included various media and online campaigns, specifically one targeting behavior change using online video for at risk men who have sex with men. I was working as an HIV Health Educator at a clinic in New York City facilitating a support group for positive individuals. Wanting to reach out to bring more of a diverse group together I implemented a cathartic creative writing project that developed into the HIV: USA creative writing and documentary film project.

What was your single biggest challenge in developing or producing it?

Money. Because of this, I had to be creative as to what other incentives other than a film that I could offer a sponsoring organizations wanting to collaborate on an HIV: USA chapter. What I came up with is to further assist them in reaching out to the communities they service, the sponsor receives 90 copies of the completed film. They can use these DVD's as a fundraising tool, to provide to other agencies and use them in support groups. These are just some of the ways in which the films have been used to date. Now thanks to SnagFilms, collaborating organizations can also "Snag" the link and use the film by embedding it on their website. Each project also includes the facilitation of a creative writing workshop, materials and journals for up to 10 participants. HIV: USA is a very affordable positive prevention, HIV education and prevention program.

What do you think SnagFilms audiences will respond to most in your movie?

I want people to see the participants as regular people and I would like the audience to see themselves in the participants. I want an audience to come away knowing HIV doesn't impact a particular group but it can affect anyone. I want the audience to know their HIV status or after watching being able to have that discussion with their partner.
 

Were any specific films inspirational to you while making the movie?

Not films per say but writers. For HIV: ID, I was influenced by Hemingway, who like me spent his formidable years in Northern Michigan. I too had seen my own version of the Green Hills of Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Hemingway spent the last years of his life in Ketchum, Idaho so one of the places I went to was Ketchum. I suppose, I was attempting to see what he saw in that place but also because its an important locale to Idahoans and it's these far isolated communities that I want to reach, who view the film and say "Hey, I know that mountain!" or "Isn't that in Camas County?". While I don't expect participants to be exceptional writers or the even the next Hemingway, I did use some of his writing styles as examples during the writing workshop to illicit writings and feelings from participants.

Were any specific films inspirational to you while making the movie?

Not films per say but writers. For HIV: ID, I was influenced by Hemingway, who like me spent his formidable years in Northern Michigan. I too had seen my own version of the Green Hills of Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Hemingway spent the last years of his life in Ketchum, Idaho so one of the places I went to was Ketchum. I suppose, I was attempting to see what he saw in that place but also because its an important locale to Idahoans and it's these far isolated communities that I want to reach, who view the film and say "Hey, I know that mountain!" or "Isn't that in Camas County?". While I don't expect participants to be exceptional writers or the even the next Hemingway, I did use some of his writing styles as examples during the writing workshop to illicit writings and feelings from participants.

Future projects in the pipeline? Tell us!

I recently finished a 30 minute documentary called "Record Store Day" and submitted it to SXSW. Record Store Day is an annual event founded in 2007 to celebrate the love of vinyl records. Using archival footage RSD looks at the process of how a record is made. It features interviews with some of Rock-N-Roll's royalty including Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Duff McKagan (G-N-R, Velvet Revolver) and Jody Stephens, the sole remaining member of the band Big Star, a band that continues to influence artists to this day.

I continue to do outreach for the HIV: USA project. It's my goal to complete one short film on HIV/AIDS in every state. Perhaps later combine them into a feature. Each film is a snapshot of America living with HIV/AIDS. I am also in the process of archiving the writings from the workshops and it would be my goal to get them published in an HIV: USA anthology.

I also have a couple of project ideas in the early stages of development. One of my goals is to do a feature documentary on some specific events that happened in the town I grew up in and although unrelated to documentary film, the other idea is in creating a children's variety show for television.

This article is related to: SnagFilms, Documentary, Interviews, Video





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