We are told at the start of Dylan Mohan Gray’s insightful documentary that, “One death is a tragedy. One million is a statistic. This is a story about statistics.” As opposed to standing back and focusing on a number of people wrestling with the HIV virus and have their fight for survival displayed on camera, Gray has decided to fill the film with interviews and information, yet he retains a narrative that is easy to follow.
Fire in the Blood presents a complex issue, one that may require some extended reading afterward to get the full picture. The film follows what could be considered one of the worst acts of genocide over the past decade; one that the Western world is personally responsible for. This is due to the prevention of affordable HIV medication being available to those living in Africa and other parts of the developing world that needed it most. Only people rich enough to afford the drugs could get them and the poor were left with no choice but to watch family members succumb to the AIDS virus.
Through interviews with human rights activists including Desmond Tutu and former US President Bill Clinton, the film examines the greed of America’s Pharmaceutical companies who, through the use of the Patent Act, were able to keep the prices of essential drugs high in order to make a profit. Gray contrasts this greed with the determination of certain individuals, such as the global health journalist Donald McNeil, Jr. and NGO director James Packard Love, in highlighting the immoral situation and attempting to make generic versions of the drug available throughout the developed world.
The film also deals with other issues relating to how the AIDS virus and those suffering from it are perceived. This includes the racism of developed states toward the developing world. One shocking scene features Andrew S. Natsios while administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development stating how people in Africa do not understand the Western concept of time, implying that they would be unable to take HIV medication as instructed. Once the generic versions of the medication did become available for many of the poor in Africa, the survival rate against HIV grew massively, proving this ignorant theory incorrect.
Dispersed between the interviews are shots of the everyday lives of people living with HIV. We see toward the end of the film how gaining access to the generic version of the drug has helped them or their families cope with the virus. It would have been nice to have more focus on these scenes to gain more of a personal take on the issue, although it seems these moments were trimmed due to the film’s running time (some have however made it onto the disc as deleted scenes).
At times the content of Fire in the Blood can become repetitive as we are told over and over about the immoral use of the Patent Act. However it could be said that this repetition is reflective of the repeated attempts taken by people such as Indian physicist Yusuf Hamied, whose company Cipla produced cheap generic drugs that eventually became available in the developing world, to help alleviate the issue.
Fire in the Blood is a shocking insight not just into the pain HIV causes to millions, but how this pain has been allowed to go on for so long when effective treatment existed and was not available.
The review disc given contained a selection of deleted scenes, some of which provided a little extra insight into topics brought up in the film, including a scene criticising the little action Clinton took while in office. We also get extended interviews with former vice president of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer Dr. Peter Rost and economist Prof. Joseph Stiglitz. Two trailers of the film are also included.
The film is presented in 1.78:1 ratio wide-screen and the transfer seems fine. This reviewer could not find any issues with the audio either, which is in stereo or 5.1 surround sound. The disc has no subtitle options.
Fire in the Blood is an informative and important documentary about what could be considered one of the worst crimes in the last decade.