September 8, 2016–A veteran BBC journalist and medical documentary filmmaker is calling for protests this Saturday night in London after BuzzFeed News reported yesterday that the Portobello Film Festival pulled this weekend’s screening of her film “Positive Hell.” This award-winning documentary tells the stories of five long-term survivors of an “HIV-positive” diagnosis living in Spain.
Producer and narrator Joan Shenton asks the protesters to meet outside the film festival at 8:30 p.m., half an hour before the original screening time, at the The KPH, 139 Ladbroke Grove, London.
In a press release and a Web article posted today, Shenton and her director, Andi Reiss, objected strongly to the festival’s action, alleging that BuzzFeed itself engineered its censorship through aggressive questioning by its U.K. LGBT editor, Patrick Strudwick.
Does Strudwick speak for the majority of LGBT persons, or for the journalistic profession, in wishing to give his audience less information rather than more? Is it his job to influence the outcomes of the stories he reports?
Shenton also objected to Strudwick’s inaccurate portrayal of her film’s message.
The festival is reported to have received two additional telephone calls objecting to the film. In his comments to BuzzFeed, festival spokesperson Jonathan Barnett defended this as sufficient “feedback” to allow the pulling of the film.
“We believe passionately in freedom of speech and expression, but clearly have no desire to create any distress,” he told BuzzFeed. “However in the spirit of not causing upset and as a people’s festival that is responsive to feedback from the public we have decided to pull the film.”
And what “public” would have given such “feedback”? Shenton suspects it’s the same kind of response from apparently drug-company-backed “student groups” that got the film dropped from the London Independent Film Festival earlier this year. The film was later screened separately, to no protests whatsoever. It went on to win two awards, one each from the United Latino and Indie Gathering film festivals in the U.S.
The message that has caused so much “distress” to as many as three people is this:
Positive Hell tells the stories of five individuals in the north of Spain who had been intravenous drug users or alcoholics in their teens. They had been treated in rehab units and had overcome their addictions but had tested “HIV” antibody positive. Thirty years on, they were fit and well, despite no regime of antiviral medication. One of them, physician Dr Manuel Garrido, had never taken any antiviral medication, consciously swimming against the tide of HIV orthodoxy for three decades. Another, Manoel Penin, took antivirals for short periods of time but gave them up. Raquel Sanz stopped taking antivirals because they made her feel so ill. She married and had two daughters. Both daughters inherited their mother’s HIV antibodies but (as is common) lost them after eighteen months. Raquel’s eldest daughter went on to have six children and her younger daughter followed a successful career. Both daughters were immensely grateful to have been kept out of the “AIDS zone”.
Are we sufficiently horrified? At this positive message, or at the censorship that protects apparently childlike audiences from hearing the stories of those who have survived 28 years?
Kevin Corbett, R.N., commented after the previous London screening: “When you ban something, you’re putting it underground, and you’re making it even more of an issue. Why not have a platform and debate it? That’s the issue.”
“Positive Hell” can still be viewed online at www.positivehell.com.
Even those living far from London can register their disappointment, by writing, politely, to email@example.com.
Update, September 13: Celia Farber published “How Positive Are You” co-host Elizabeth Ely’s further article on the censorship at “The Truth Barrier,” HERE. Joan Shenton fought back on “London Live.” (This show has a poor bandwidth online, so you should play it through a second time to view it smoothly; the editing is completely biased, but Joan made her point. Don’t censor a film from your own festival once it’s been accepted.)
Update, September 28: “How Positive Are You” co-host David Crowe interviewed Joan Shenton and Andi Reiss on the censorship, on his Internet radio show, “The Infectious Myth,” HERE.