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UW-Eau Claire Forum Series
Opens Season with 'The Gift'

 MAILED:  Sept. 16, 2004

EAU CLAIRE — Documentary filmmaker Louise Hogarth will present the first event of the 63rd season of The Forum at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Monday, Sept. 27, and Tuesday, Sept. 28.

Her challenging 2003 film, "The Gift," documents the phenomenon of deliberate HIV infection. Hogarth's presentations in Schofield Auditorium will begin at 7:30 p.m. each evening with a screening of her 62-minute documentary. She will then lead a discussion of the issues raised in the film, and talk about the process of creating the documentary.

"'Inflammatory' probably isn't a strong enough word for Louise Hogarth's documentary," wrote Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "The film's ostensible subjects are 'bug-chasers,' gay men who deliberately seek out 'the gift' of HIV, whether out of the mistaken notion that a cure is just around the corner or the sense that they'd rather know they're positive than keep wondering if they are. But [the film's] true subject is the ineffectiveness of AIDS education, and the gulf between positive and negative gay men."

Louise Hogarth created "The Gift" because she wanted HIV/AIDS back in the headlines.

"Twenty years after the initial panic there is a dangerous new complacency fueled by the mistaken belief that AIDS is now a manageable disease," Hogarth has written. "AIDS was viewed as a short-term health crisis in the beginning, and the early strategies worked. Everyone was terrified of getting it. The prevention efforts were successful and the infection rate was reduced significantly, but then people stopped talking about AIDS. They viewed it as a treatable, manageable disease. The pharmaceutical ads and the safe sex campaigns inadvertently glamorized and eroticized HIV/AIDS."

Statistics show that 60 percent of cases of new infections are among gay men — despite the fact they make up only 5 percent of the population. These numbers made it clear to Hogarth that safe sex messages were not getting through to this at-risk group. In her research, Hogarth found a prevalence of the attitude that the answer to HIV/AIDS is simple — take a pill. It seemed that many gay men, particularly younger gay men, were unaware that the drug cocktails can cause serious side effects, including death. Many also did not know that they could be infected or re-infected by a drug-resistant strain of the virus and that drugs might not be an option. Many thought that once they had the virus, they could have unprotected sex without worry that they could get any sicker.

Hogarth wanted to peg her documentary on something sensational — something that would get people talking about the increasing rates of infection of HIV and the need for new prevention strategies. In her research, she ran across the phenomenon of "bug chasing" and "gift giving" — the deliberate infection of HIV.

"The Gift" is a timely investigation into a fascinating phenomenon, the eroticization by a sub-group of gay men of deliberate HIV infection. The film shines a balanced yet uncompromising light on the effectiveness of HIV prevention strategies and the mixed messages that continue to fuel a psychologically complex and potentially deadly game. Evenly presented yet unapologetically honest, Hogarth's film wades through tricky and fragile political waters without being preachy or judgmental as it follows the stories of men who have involved themselves in an all-too-real fantasy world, including the seductive realm of the Internet.

Hogarth's subject matter is disturbing. Some scenes in this film depict gay men romantically courting HIV and then celebrating their resultant infection. There are also scenes with the host of a party house who unapologetically facilitates infection.

"'The Gift' presents real-life horrors so complete and unfathomable that you can't get them out of your head," Filmcritic.com reviewer Jake Euker noted. "It was sometimes tempting to leave the screening, but in the end this gift — the film, not the virus — is one worth keeping."

"I've told no lies in this film," Hogarth says. "It may well be deemed 'sensational,' but I have not sensationalized it. What you see is the truth as it unfolded before my eyes. How does one apologize for the truth? While I regret the defensive burden this film may place on the gay community, I'm optimistic that lives might eventually be saved."

Hogarth felt an imperative to make the film as she witnessed the international implications of American prevention messages being exported to other countries. During a recent trip to Africa, Hogarth discovered that the same safe sex campaigns used in America were being used in Africa, resulting in women there deliberately seeking infection from HIV positive men.

With a dedicated crew of hard-working professionals and volunteers, a grant from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and donated office space, Hogarth self-financed the project which took two and a half years to complete. The film was finished in 2003 and premiered at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival where it made international headlines for its cutting-edge content and challenging message.

Founder and director of the independent documentary company Dream Out Loud Productions, Hogarth co-produced "The Panama Deception" (1992), which received an Academy Award for Best Feature Length Documentary. Her work includes projects for such major studios as Universal, Paramount and Disney.

Reserved seating is $7 for the public, $5 for those 62 and older and UW System or Chippewa Valley Technical College faculty and staff, and $3 for those 17 and younger and UW System or CVTC students. Tickets are available at the Service Center counter in the east lobby of Davies Center and will also be sold at the door. The Service Center is open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Patrons may also charge their tickets to MasterCard or Visa when they order by phone. Call (715) 836-3727 — or, outside the immediate Eau Claire area, call toll-free (800) 949-UWEC. A $3 handling fee will be added to all telephone charge orders.

"The Gift" is not recommended for those under the age of 17, as the documentary explores controversial social and psychological issues and contains frank sexual discussions, some nudity and language that may be offensive. Due to graphic content, viewer discretion is advised.

Wisconsin Public Radio and Community Television have contributed generous promotional support to The Forum. Park Inn and Suites Eau Claire (715-838-9989) at 3340 Mondovi Road is the exclusive accommodations partner for The Forum.

Funded by the students of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, The Forum is administered by the Activities and Programs office.

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JS/NW

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Updated: September 27, 2004