About Positive Hell
Positive Hell is a 30-minute documentary that tells the stories of five Spanish people, living in northern Spain, who tested positive for HIV in the late 80s who, defying the overwhelming medical consensus, chose not to take medication, or took it for a short period of time and then stopped. Although one of the protagonists dies before the film is finished, he had lived for 27 years without HIV medication, and his testimony alongside the others maintains that their decision was life-enhancing and not life-threatening. The premise of the film is that the widely-accepted scientific approach to prognosis, diagnosis and treatment is wrong and that the drug companies “are the only beneficiaries” to the current approach to AIDS treatment.
The film – written and narrated by Joan Shenton of Meditel Productions was co-produced with the film’s director Andi Reiss of Yellow Entertainment – has been screened at many festivals around the world and was nominated for best film at the Marbella Film Festival.
In 2016, two planned London screenings of the film were pulled – by the London Independent Film Festival (LIFF) and the Portobello Film Festival (PFF). A third screening was pulled by Bluestockings Bookstore in New York and so outside the UK scope of Index on Censorship’s Art and Offence programme. In all three cases, cancellation of the planned screening came following public pressure and pressure from campaigning groups and science professionals.
The two cancellations in London followed a similar pattern: the film was accepted, programmed and advertised as part of a forthcoming festival programme. Within days of going public, the directors of the film festivals received letters from leading AIDS charities asking the film be pulled. The directors of the film festivals then wrote to the producers of the film, informing them that the film would no longer be part of the festival.
Positive Hell was due to be screened at London Independent Film Festival on 17 April 2016 and was cancelled the previous week. Portobello Film Festival was due to be screened on 12 September 2016 and was cancelled on 8 September.
Shenton contacted Index following the second cancellation of the film, to see if Index could help find out further information about why the films were pulled from the festivals. Index suggested that a Freedom of Information request could be made to Kensington Council, which was one of the funders of the Portobello Film Festival. The response to the FOI request outlined the reasons for cancelling the film, which the director had already conveyed in previous emails to Shenton and which are outlined below.
In researching this case study, Index wrote to the National Aids Trust and Terrence Higgins Trust, the two charities named in correspondence with LIFF (see below), asking them for access to the letters they sent to the festival directors. Index received, by return, a copy of the letter sent to Erich Schultz, director of LIFF, by Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of National Aids Trust.
Gold wrote: “The film proposes that the origin and nature of HIV and AIDS are up for debate and that is simply not true. There is 30 years of worldwide, respected research showing exactly how HIV works in the body and how it is contracted – as well as irrefutable evidence that without medication it will lead to AIDS. …Denying this basic truth about HIV and AIDS kills people.“
She ends: “Giving a platform to people who spread these abhorrent and dangerous views is incredibly irresponsible. I urge you to withdraw the screening of this film as a matter of urgency.“
The Terence Higgins Trust did not reply.
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