Positive Thinking

The Positive Project offers a human learning experience.

Once Lorenzo discovered he had HIV ten years ago, after a friend suggested he should be tested for flu-like symptoms, he began coming to grips with the AIDS virus and the role it would play in his new world.

"Life goes on...and it doesn't have to be a totally negative reality," he says. "I have the sense that there are more resources now than ever."

Lorenzo's story is only one of many that will eventually be catalogued in The Positive Project, a Denver-based video effort launched by two mental health care workers last year. Tony Miles, a psychoanalyst who works with the Colorado Aids Project, and Dawn Shearer, a private counselor, envision the project as a digital record of people living with HIV/AIDS and a resource for everyone whose life it touches: Family members, care workers, support groups, even pharmaceutical companies are among those who Miles and Shearer say can learn something from the stories they plan to collect.

"It's almost the opposite of peer pressure," Miles says. "We believe that individual stories have the power to affect individuals. It's like the concept of the speakers' bureau, magnified ten times."

In a straightforward documentary style, Miles will work from a uniform list of questions, then allow the interviewees, identified only by their first names, to freely relate their own experiences on everything from advice for the newly diagnosed to the ways in which the virus has altered their sense of spirituality. The data will then be catalogued in a sprawling database that will be searchable by keyword and customized for specific uses. A collection of anecdotes about lifestyle and prevention could be compiled for at-risk groups, for example, while doctors could listen to patients talk about how they'd be better served during treatment.

Miles was moved to start the Positive Project after a longtime friend died from AIDS several years ago. A graduate student at the time, Miles had asked his friend to come talk to his class about life with the virus. The man declined to speak in person but agreed to be videotaped, and Miles's classmates responded overwhelmingly to the effect of seeing an actual living, breathing human talking about his experience. The friend is gone now, but the tape remains. Miles says he was also inspired in part by the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which filmmaker Steven Spielberg launched in the mid-'90s as a living document of the Holocaust.

"Part of our mission is to raise public awareness and reduce stigma," Miles says. "I think someone could get a lot out of this, even if they thought they had no connection to AIDS whatsoever. Maybe one of the interviewees reminded them of someone they know, a relative."

Miles and Shearer hope to have the information on the Web within a year. For the moment, they're focusing on obtaining donations of both equipment and cash, as well as arranging screenings of a demo-style DVD featuring interviews with four individuals from Denver. Like Lorenzo, the subjects express everything from anger and confusion to hopefulness and tenacity when describing the way HIV/AIDS has affected their lives. The diversity of the interviewees -- black, white, male, female, straight, gay -- speaks to the breadth of the disease's reach.

"I know many people still feel that HIV/AIDS is 'out there' and 'about those people,' but HIV is with us all," Miles says. "It is in our communities, no matter which community one affiliates with. When it doesn't seem that way, it's reflective of the fact that people are simply not talking about it."

 
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