Here is a clip from the documentary Commitment to Life from filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz (Tab Hunter Confidential, I Am Divine), which will world premiere in-person on Saturday, February 11th, 2023 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Against a rich Hollywood backdrop, Commitment to Life documents the true story of the fight against HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles — and how an intrepid group of people living with HIV/AIDS, doctors, movie stars, studio moguls and activists changed the course of the epidemic.
In the early 1980s, a young doctor at UCLA reports a strange immune disorder among gay men — the world’s first warning sign of the epidemic to come. Commitment to Life documents this incredible drama— Rock Hudson and Easy-E, Elizabeth Taylor and David Geffen, the Red Ribbon and Philadelphia, ACT UP and AIDS Project Los Angeles — through the stories of those who lived through it.
The film profiles some of the extraordinary and courageous individuals who stepped forward in a fight for survival. People like Nancy Cole, one of the founders of AIDS Project Los Angeles, who helped provide vital services in those dark early days and was one of the first women in LA to go public about having AIDS. Or Phill Wilson, who, when he and his partner Chris Brownlie were faced with their own HIV diagnosis, became full time activists, and helped defeat the notorious Prop 64, which would have placed people with HIV in internment camps. There’s Brenda Frieberg, who when both of her sons were diagnosed with AIDS, traveled to Washington to lobby for access to drugs that could save their lives. Or Jewel Thais-Williams, owner of Catch One disco, who helped start the Minority AIDS Project to address the needs of the African American community. And in the center of the storm was AIDS Project Los Angeles, a committed group of activists who helped care for the sick and dying, while at the same time lobbied those in Hollywood to contribute to the fight. APLA brought together A-list stars like Elizabeth Taylor, who used her celebrity to advocate for people with AIDS and inspired the Hollywood community to do the same.
Using newly filmed interviews, never-before-seen clips from APLA’s gala fundraising events, rare archival footage, and long-forgotten PSAs, “Commitment to Life” reconstructs the virus’ devastating march and the city that rose to fight it. Like the virus itself, the story winds through gated communities and neighborhoods of color, government offices and university labs, hospital suites and studio sound stages to tell a story of courage and sacrifice — as well as one of discrimination and unequal treatment.
The documentary features interviews with Jewel Thais-Williams Co-founder, Minority AIDS Project; Phill Wilson HIV/AIDS Activist; Karamo Brown “Queer Eye” Cast Member & HIV/AIDS Educator; Dr. Michael Gottlieb Physician and Former APLA Board Member; Bruce Vilanch Writer and Comedian;Jeffrey Katzenberg Former Chairman,Walt Disney Studios and APLA Board Member; Robert Contreras Co-Founder, Bienestar; Torie Osborn Former Executive Director,National Gay and Lesbian Task Force;Rev. Steve Pieters Former Field Director of AIDS Ministry, Metropolitan Community Churches; and Bamby Salcedo President,Trans Latin Coalition.
Watch a clip from Commitment to Life.