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COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILT

USA, 1989 (MIFF 1990, Documentaries)

Director: Robert Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt is impressive as a singularly moving and sympathetic account of people whose lives have been profoundly altered, or cut short, by AIDS.

The 75 minute documentary slams through stereotypes to tell the stories of several individuals - a one time Olympic decathlon star, a former drug user, a United States Navy commander and his lover, a boy with haemophilia, a New York writer.

Directed by Rob Epstein (The Times of Harvey Milk) and Jeffrey Friedman - who are also producers along with Bill Couturie (HBO's Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam) - Common Threads takes its five personal profiles from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, started in 1987 by the Names Project in San Francisco to provide positive means of expression for those whose lives are touched by the epidemic. The quilt is made up of 3-by-6-foot panels, each commemorating an AIDS death. Today the 16-ton patchwork contains 10,500 panels capable of covering 14 acres.

At one level, Common Threads is a compact yet thorough history of the AIDS phenomenon, reaching back to 1981 news reports referring almost casually to a new cancer appearing in gay men.

The emotional core of this film, however, is the biographies. The lives of the already dead are reconstructed through photographs and reminiscences by loved ones. The living, several of whom have tested positive for antibodies to the AIDS virus, speak candidly, even graphically about their experiences. Slowly, carefully, powerfully Common Threads takes the cold statistics and gives them very recognizable faces. Very few viewers are likely to be unmoved.
John J. O'Connor, New York Times 24/10/1989

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