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USA, 1993 (MIFF 1993, Documentaries)

Director: Tom Joslin, Peter Friedman

When Mark Massi and Tom Joslin discovered they both were infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, Tom decided to document the progress of the disease on videotape. Joined by longtime friend Peter Friedman, who ultimately finished the film, they have produced a devastatingly real chronicle. If, up to this point, AIDS has remained an abstraction for many people, the vividness of this portrait will go a long way toward encouraging a more immediate understanding.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but this is a very difficult film to watch. Intercutting interviews with family members and footage from an earlier film about what it feels like to be gay, it details the agony of living with AIDS. Personal and at times confrontational, the film makes the ordeal so powerful that you can't help but continue to be a cinematic witness. The mundaneness of everyday life is reframed in the face of imminent death. The visual impact is overwhelming and underscores the terrible situation people must confront. The film not only records death, but also life with AIDS. Separation from society only magnifies the pain.

Ultimately Silverlake Life offers the viewer a profound experience through its poignant observance of the horror of death. However the film is neither voyeuristic nor cathartic, but a stimulus for many of us to consider the way we understand AIDS, and realise that the situation cannot continue as it is. As disturbing as they may be, the lessons of Silverlake Life are about courage, endurance, humanity and our own mortality.

Geoffrey Gilmore, Sundance Film Festival

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