Every so often a documentary will come around, which is so important and so powerful that you forget for a moment that you are watching this on your screen and instead start to see the bigger picture and how its subject matter is affecting the greater world around you. Fire in the Blood is an example of when that happens and instead, the audience is progressively given all the facts about something, which is happening outside their door and something, which can and must be changed.
Commenting on the AIDS crisis in countries who suffer from lower economic climates such as Africa and India, the director, Dylan Mohan Gray and his team have searched far and wide to put together a documentary, which has the power to uplift spirits and cause real fight amongst its audience. By concentrating on the tension between the deaths of those affected by AIDS in these countries, deaths which did not have to occur and that off the “big pharma,” being the corporations in the USA who produce ARVs (Antiretroviral drugs), which can combat and fight the symptoms of HIV and AIDS, Fire in the Blood sets about almost instantly to tell the audience who the heroes of the story are and who the ‘baddies’ are.
A story spanning decades and ultimately coming up to recent years, the interviewees of the documentary range from those directly involved in companies such as Pfizer, who have set out patents on their medications to ensure that they aren’t distributed or copied elsewhere in the world for a cheaper price as well as those leading the fight against these companies including the American, James Love who was interested in how international intellectual property policy and innovation policy impacts on public health, Zackie Achmat who despite rapidly failing health from AIDS, refused to start antiretroviral treatment until the South African government agreed to implement a publicly-funded national treatment program for people with HIV and Yusuf Hamied who shot to global prominence in early 2001 when he announced that his company, Cipla, an Indian socially-conscious generic drugmaker, would supply a combination of AIDS drugs to developing countries for less than $1 a day, at a time when first-line antiretroviral (ARV) medication sold for up to more than $15,000 per patient per year.
So many discussions are had during the film and some things, which I am sure many weren’t completely aware off before are simply terrifying facts to face. For example, lobbying occurred to ensure that these ARV medicines were distributed throughout Africa at a cheaper rate, AIDS awareness groups who fought for those affected by AIDS in the Western world were against these demonstrations because they worried that new strains of the illness could occur if they helped combat the illness in less civilised nations as well as these medications starting to react differently and many becoming unresponsive to the medication. Therefore a sense of paranoia was created amongst these groups and the drug companies did nothing to sway opinion in the opposite direction but instead continued to reinforce these terrible thoughts by accusing medical plants in areas of the world such as India as being dirty and creating generic medication and hygiene cleaning, which was substandard and wouldn’t help. In other words, the drug companies in the USA who were charging $15,000 a year for this medication were saying that without their brand name, these generic medications were simply not the same despite the fact they were both made with the same cheap active ingredients, as pointed out by Cipla’s Hamied.
Some of the archive footage in the film is so unique and shattering to watch, ranging from interviews and clips with powerful men such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi as well as moments in American congress such as when George W. Bush announced an overhaul in these AIDS related drugs and promised to feed a huge amount of money into ensuring these drugs were provided cheaply across areas of the world including Africa and India. As well as this, it was particularly interesting to see former President of the USA, Bill Clinton actually being interviewed for the documentary, talking about the work he did with the Clinton Foundation. In 2002, the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI, which is now called the Clinton Health Access Initiative) was established to procure the lowest-cost ARVs for treatment programs in developing countries. By 2007, the foundation’s high-volume procurement of generic drugs had helped push prices for ARV treatment in Africa down to below $100 per patient per year. The work that the foundation did promoted the gradual acceptance of these generic medications despite the best efforts from the advertising to believe these were substandard products. Through the wide range of interviews, from people directly involved in the fight against these drug companies to those on the ground who have been affected by AIDS/HIV, they give the documentary a sense of authenticity, which will truly provoke a coming together of a community against these atrocities.
The film also constantly references other articles from the past few decades, which have been published in print and online backing up the claims of what has been going on during the history of this illness and what happened when various people campaigned for these cheaper drugs. When a filmmaker has the balls to use American newspaper cuttings to illustrate their own cultures weaknesses, you truly understand the importance of the documentary and what the team is trying to say.
Certainly worth a watch as it is affecting on so many levels and even for those with little knowledge on the history of these issues (as I was), this beautifully compiled documentary doesn’t judge and doesn’t assume you know it all already and instead takes the time to explain and give all the relevant history, which added to the reasons why Fire in the Blood will hopefully remain one of the most important AIDS documentaries to have been created and will, I am sure inspire change in the audience who are gripped from the opening minutes until the very end.
*The facts about the contributors and many of the stats came from the official website for the Fire in the Blood, http://fireintheblood.com