One of the greater black marks in modern human history is something that, to this day, still plagues our civilization. In the wake of the AIDS crisis becoming a worldwide pandemic, pharmaceutical companies around the globe began work on drugs to try and break down this virus. These antiviral drugs, drugs that could literally save millions and millions of lives, became (and in many cases still are) monstrously expensive, leaving many in developing nations, those who need true help, out in the proverbial cold.
This, and much more, is the subject of a new documentary arriving in theaters this weekend entitled Fire In The Blood, a new film from director Dylan Mohan Gray. Narrated by William Hurt, the film tells the story of a handful of people trying to fight for drugs in third world nations, and those deeply affected by the lack of said drugs. However, it’s not just a glanced through topic, as the greatest thing one could say about this film is the importance Gray sees not only in the patent laws at the core of this debate, but also the actual faces that give this film life.
One of a handful of documentaries arriving this month that are not only great films, but utterly important viewing (the upcoming masterpiece that is After Tiller seems fitting of that denotation as well), the film hints at just how inherently evil and malevolent this system truly is. Following the discovery of the aforementioned antiviral medication came sky high price tags, often costing an average person roughly $15,000 a year just for the new drug cocktail they need to try and stay alive as long as possible. And of all the reasons why this was the case, patent laws are proven to be the culprit here. With companies able to garner a profit for nickels and dimes per pill, the laws are so strict and unbendable that these people become victims of a system rotten at its very core.
And yes, this film is as heartbreaking and viscerally frustrating as it sounds. Similar to a film like Craig Ferguson’s Inside Job, the film is a beautifully composed, if not all that lively, aesthetic experience, blending the narration (which finds Hurt’s voice adding a stunning level of gravitas to the already inherently affecting proceedings) with interviews with those directly involved be it those currently suffering from AIDS or HIV to doctors trying to help make these pills cheaper, all the way to leaders of the anti-Big Pharma movement like President Bill Clinton. The film doesn’t break any ground aesthetically, like say a film like last year’s How To Survive A Plague ultimately became both a breathtaking look at the AIDS epidemic while also playing as a time capsule from an era on the brink, but what it does do is paint a truly awe-inspiring portrait of a despicable industry doing despicable things to entire populations of people who literally need them to survive.
Standard in its construction, the people this film follows are far from ordinary. The biggest and most interesting thread found within this film comes in the form of South African Zackie Achmat, an activist who refused treatment until his native country made the treatment he would have received available to everyone. Paired opposite people like Clinton and even a brainier talking head like intellectual property guru James Love, you have a film that is perfectly balanced between the dense info-driven debate and the actual people who are fighting tooth and nail to make medicine readily available.
Now, while the actual information displayed here can run a little long in the tooth, getting a tad cumbersome for those who may end up feeling overcome by the sheer amount of information one is introduced to (again, another fine comparison is Ferguson’s films, often intriguing documentaries but ones that are indelibly dense), the core of this film is still the people affected. Every shred of information is information that is of the utmost importance to this fight, a fight that is still today being waged even despite what we all may deem a “modern” civilization. Modern civilizations don’t let populations die due to greed and patent laws. And while Big Pharma appears to be still the most powerful lobby in Washington outside of say Big Oil, Fire In The Blood beautifully and evocatively proves that it’s a fight that needs to be had, and needs to be won by those of us who care more about people than wallets.