July 12, 2012 at 8:53 am EDT | by Erin Durkin
Welcoming the world

Members of the World AIDS Institute team (l-r): Chad Johnson, Diego Alves, Noel Short, David Miller, Angela Kelly, Kevin Maloney, Dave Purdy and Mariel Selbovitz. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As Washington gears up to host the International AIDS Conference for the first time in 22 years, local organizations have planned a bounty of free or independent events for those who could not afford the $150-$1,045 registration fee.

Global Village, an international organization that brings together leaders, researchers and performers from all over the world to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS, is hosting several sessions within the conference ranging from video screenings and art exhibitions to networking zones and meeting rooms. Everything the Global Village is hosting is free and open to delegates and locals.

“We are trying to connect science, research and community,” coordinator Joseph Elias says. “It is important that the D.C. community participates to get a grasp of what is happening locally and globally.”

Several of the events will be geared toward youth under the age of 30 dealing with HIV/AIDS.

Emily Carson, youth program coordinator at Global Village, says the focus on youth has been in demand.

“Young people are disproportionally affected by HIV,” she says. “In the conference in 2000, there were only 50 young people, and they said this is a severe problem, no one is speaking for us.”

Among the many attractions in the Global Village area, there will be an interactive story telling booth called, “Generations HIV.” The booth looks like a photo booth, but it records video instead.

The booth was created by Marc Smolowitz and Jörg Fockele, both San Francisco-based filmmakers, as part of their HIV Story Project. The booth has been featured three times in the San Francisco Bay area and has so far collected about 250 clips. The HIV Story Project is a non-profit organization that compiles multi-platform story telling and short films about living with HIV/AIDS.

“The booth is a conversation starter,” Smolowitz says. “It is to connect different generations of people living with HIV. You can ask questions of different generations, answer questions or record your personal story.”

Smolowitz and Fockele are currently trying to start an archive online where all the videos will be posted.

A still from ‘Ours,’ one of the films being screened July 24-25 in the AIDS Film Festival. (Image courtesy the Festival)

Along with the booth, the HIV Story Project team also has a movie screening at the International AIDS Film Festival, which is occurring in conjunction with the conference from July 24-25. The film is titled, “Still Around,” and is a compilation of 15 short films portraying different people living with HIV/AIDS in the San Francisco area. The people were paired with 16 different directors and had direct say in their own films. The films vary, and include stories about how people are thriving with the disease. One subject is a man who copes with his HIV-positive status through a hooking ritual. Another is a couple that marries, has a daughter and faces HIV/AIDS together.

Fockele says the film is an update of what the face of HIV/AIDS looks like in the U.S. and in Europe today.

“In Europe and the U.S. there are mostly historic films about HIV and AIDS,” he says. “What we went out to do is to get a film that is right here, right now.”

The movie is opening the festival on July 24 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10, and a pass for all four films is $25. For more information about the International AIDS Film Festival 2012, visit internationalaidsfilmfestival.org.

The film festival and several other community events are a part of the AIDS2012 Reunion, a resource for conference attendees to see what local events are taking place outside the main conference.

“The one thing we are doing is we are allowing anyone to participate,” managing director David Purdy says. “Low-income people are one group that needs support and to get educated about HIV/AIDS.”

Some of the events in the AIDS2012 Reunion as well as other community events include:

• On July 20-21, the DC Center, National Coalition of LGBT Health, Whitman-Walker Health and Us Helping Us at George Washington University (2029 G St., N.W.) are hosting the Gay Men’s Health Summit. Registration is $85, $65 for students.

• On July 21, Jay Brannan is playing at the U Street Music Hall (1115A U St., N.W.) at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20.

• From July 21-27, the Textile Museum (2320 S St., N.W.) is showing a special display of one panel from the AIDS Quilt. An $8 donation is suggested.

• On July 22, there’s a March on Washington involving several different local organizations from noon to 2 p.m.

• On July 19 and 23, Arena Stage (1101 6th St., S.W.) hosts a benefit performance of its current production, the Larry Kramer-penned AIDS classic “The Normal Heart” at 8 p.m. Tickets are $65.

• On July 24, “Return to Lisner: A Forum on the State of HIV/AIDS,” is taking place at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University (2029 G St., N.W.). Registration is required.

For more events, visit the AIDS2012 Reunion website aids2012reunion.org.

These events are only a fraction of what will be occurring throughout the D.C. Metropolitan area.

Chris Dyer, organizer for the Gay Men’s Health Summit, says by hosting separate events from the conference, organizations can make them more focused on certain groups.

“Gay men’s health issues are unique,” he says. “The main conference deals with a variety of issues, but we are providing a safe place for gay, bisexual or trans men to talk about their specific issues in a safe place.”

Purdy also says that organizations like AIDS2012 Reunion bring the focus back to what is happening locally and connecting people to services they may not be aware of.

“We’re providing an opportunity to participate and win this war against AIDS,” he says.

Bringing the spotlight back to Washington, local filmmakers Art Jones and Pam Bailey are also presenting their documentary “13 Percent,” which is about how the African-American population in Washington and other metropolitan areas has been affected by HIV/AIDS in the past 10 years. The movie will be screening at Bloombars (3222 11th St., N.W.) on July 24 at 7 p.m. RSVP and  $10 donation is suggested.

The film is intermixed with interviews from medical professionals, political leaders, religious leaders and those living with the virus. They showcase a variety of people affected by the disease and their stories, one of the most compelling being a young woman named Raven.

Raven was born with HIV and when her mother informed the Catholic school she was attending, Raven began facing daily discrimination from teachers and students. She describes how one teacher put garbage bags around her and would bar her from going on class trips. All of this occurred well after it was known how the virus is spread.

“I am hoping [the audience] take away the recognition that we are a community that is really threatened,” Jones says. “This film should be a call to action.”

He hopes this would lead to more exposure of how much of a threat HIV remains.

Purdy wishes similar things for attendees of the conference and the different community events.

“Really, I hope people have a new commitment or a recommitment to work together in this fight,” he says. “I would like them to share stories and remember the 30 million who have died from AIDS worldwide. There is a lot of work that needs to be done.”

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