Laurie DeWitt/The Gazette
Chevy Chase resident Cintia Cabib's documentary "Let's Talk About HIV/AIDS" aims to educate young African-Americans about the disease and prevention techniques. The film recently won a CINE Golden Eagle Award that recognizes excellence in video, broadcasting and new media.
In the course of making her documentary "Let's Talk About HIV/AIDS," one of the greatest challenges for Chevy Chase filmmaker Cintia Cabib was making sure it lived up to its title.
For the 29-minute documentary, which educates young blacks about the HIV virus and shares the personal stories of those who deal with the illness, Cabib contacted about 30 people who had HIV to see if they wanted to be interviewed. Many of them expressed initial interest, but did not respond to follow-up calls from Cabib, who spent more than a year researching and producing the film.
"It's not easy to find people who will do that," said Cabib, 47, who made the documentary along with her sister Leila for the African American Health Program organization in Montgomery County, which highlights black health issues and racial disparities in health.
The documentary, which won a Golden Eagle award from the CINE organization in Washington, D.C., for excellence in filmmaking, will begin airing on Monday on Access Montgomery's cable channel and run throughout the month.
Portions of "Let's Talk About HIV/AIDS" deal with straightforward facts. In the first segment, viewers learn that AIDS is the leading cause of death among black men and women ages 25 to 44, and that 80 percent of current AIDS patients in Maryland are black. There is also practical advice from Janesia Simmons, a health educator who tells young people that when it comes to discussing HIV and AIDS with their sexual partners, "If you're not comfortable, you should not be engaging in sexual intercourse."
But Cabib also wanted to add the "warmth" of HIV patients telling their stories, which she believes makes the documentary different than traditional educational methods.
Cabib wanted to share the story of Maryland residents like Karlene Mighty. When Mighty first learned she was HIV-positive at age 22, her first thought was about her future: "Am I going to be able to have children? Who is going to want to date me?"
In the film, Mighty said she has advanced kidney failure because of the virus, and undergoes dialysis for more than three hours, three times a week. But her primary message to young people is to make sure they remember their goals in life whenever they are faced with crucial choices.
"When we keep our dreams in the forefront of our mind, that helps guide us in our decision making," Mighty says in the documentary.
In the same spirit, Cabib did not want to portray people like Mighty as having a "death sentence." Instead, she focused on people like Monte Wolfe, a Washington, D.C., activist and artist with HIV who, after he tested positive, founded the Brave Soul Collective, an HIV and AIDS outreach program that provides a platform for artistic expression. When he first learned he had HIV, he recalled that, "I just saw black."
"I had to pull myself up out of that stupor, and just continue to live," Wolfe said.
The film also features people like Michela Wariebi from Silver Spring, a student at the University of Maryland who does not have HIV. She made the difficult decision to remain abstinent, although she admits in the film that the choice is not for everyone and requires a real commitment.
"It's a hard decision to live with. It's not something like, ‘I'm not going to drink soda,'" she says.
Despite the difficulties, Cabib hopes the film does indeed live up to its name and helps young black people feel empowered through increased knowledge and confidence, wherever it is shown.
"I hope it leads to people talking about the issue," she said.