Origins of AIDS
Photos and Video
Where did AIDS come from? Science has determined that the ancestor virus of HIV is found in chimpanzees. But how did it cross over to humans? Could AIDS have arisen as a result of Western medical intervention in Africa? This provocative documentary examines those questions in depth, and suggests that the notoriously insular scientific community deliberately thwarted efforts to find the answers. The film relies heavily on the testimony of investigative journalist Edward Hooper, whose 1999 book The River posited a link between HIV and a contaminated oral polio vaccine (OPV), which Western doctors fed to roughly a million people in central Africa between 1957 and 1960. Famously smacked down by the scientific establishment at a 2000 London conference on the OPV controversy, Hooper here receives corroboration from lab assistants who participated in the preparation of vaccines cultivated with contaminated chimp tissue. More importantly, doctors who for years denied authorizing the use of chimp cultures in Africa come forward, on and off the record, to reveal the truth. In a just world, this film would compel scientists to re-examine the evidence, but with billions of dollars in vaccine patents at stake and the prospect of devastating class-action lawsuits, the cover-up may continue. Science is, as one of the interviewees observes, "a very cruel culture," in which hypotheses exist only to be demolished by those with the facts -- or the power -- to debunk them. To those affected by AIDS, and denied access to the truth about its origins, that culture has been very cruel indeed.
Director's Statement Collapse
Before beginnning a documentary film, I have the same old fears, the same desires. Then work begins with an energy and curiosity that usually guides me safely to the end. But the day Christine Le Goff asked me to take part in this film on the origins of AIDS, I lost all my familiar grounds. It was not about fear or desire anymore. It was about anger. How was I going to succeed making such a film? How was I going to find my familiar grounds again? I was first struck by my ignorance. I have a background in biochemistry, I taught biology for 10 years, it should have given me the necessary background to understand. But on the subject of the origins of AIDS, I realized I knew nothing. Of course, there was scattered information, some piece of knowledge here and there, a scant memory of something heard in passing, but nothing was linked. There was no thread, no point of view. Here I was, facing the world with its boundless suffering and the unbearable silence that envelops it. I saw a river of images with its victims but no official explanation for it. Explanations did come, but from a few scientists, who have taken the freedom to question conclusions they feel were too quickly drawn, scientific proofs they say were debatable. Next to the well-marked path, we found a few courageous men who didn't hesitate to brave danger and follow other routes. We decided to follow these men of conviction and the road they opened before us. They told us of their doubts, their infinite patience, their difficult inquiries. Like them, I did feel that, behind this disaster, existed hidden truths. There had to be an origin, a reason. We needed to know. So we did our own investigation. We went to Africa and we let those who never talked, speak. It was both a surprise and a revelation. These testimonies from these forgotten African assistants, the only direct witnesses to what may have happened more than 50 years ago in the jungles of the Congo, were the reason we never gave up on this film. It took us three years of arduous research, of doors slamming in our faces, of retracing our steps in the face of mounting opposition, of collecting and reading thousands of pages of diaries, scientific papers, forgotten lab notes and correspondence. We went back all the way to the source, convinced that we would find there the key to this mystery. This long journey was, I hope, a quest for more transparency and maybe a step toward the truth.
Film Information Collapse
About the Director(s)Collapse
Peter Chappell was born in Aylesbury, England. During the last 20 years, Chappell has worked in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. He studied at the Universities of Exeter and Bristol, in England, and at the National Film School, in France. Chappell began his career in 1981 with South Africa Belongs to Us. In 1998, he directed Our Friends at the Bank, which won the Silver FIPA, the Prize of the Bibliotheque Nationale, at the Cinéma du Réel Festival, and an award at the Okomedia International Ecological Film Festival of Freiburg. Chappell was also awarded the 2000 Albert Londres Prize for Les Damnées de la Terre (1999). Catherine Peix was born in Paris. She was a high school biology teacher prior to moving into filmmaking. For the last 20 years, Peix has edited TV dramas, movies, video clips, short films, advertisements, and documentaries. Some of the films and documentaries she edited include Jean-Marie Poiré's Opération Corned Beef (1990) and Les Anges gardiens (1994/1995), Le siege de Venise (1991) by Giorgio Ferrara, Merzak Allouache's La solitude du manager (1998), Jean-Jacque Beineix's Locked in Syndrome (1997), Gaultier Flauder's La foret de cendre (1998), and Sur la terre des dinosaurs (1999).