Explosively controversial docu takes the "other side" of the official medical stance on the origin of AIDS, specifically doubting whether HIV is a cause of the disease. Though docu fails to present a particularly compelling argument, especially in suggesting alternatives, one cannot help but root for the underdog hypothesis.

Explosively controversial docu takes the “other side” of the official medical stance on the origin of AIDS, specifically doubting whether HIV is a cause of the disease. Though docu fails to present a particularly compelling argument, especially in suggesting alternatives, it so cannily chooses its smug, quasi-psychotic reps of the established medico-pharmaceutical-governmental status quo that one cannot help but root for the underdog hypothesis. Add the story of a healthy infant force-fed AZT, and the cost of complacency appears too high. Doc should spark fests and specialized venues but may be judged too “irresponsible” for cable.

First part of docu argues strenuously that HIV is a viral construct that has neither been isolated nor proven to cause AIDS. Pic further contends that HIV tests only detect antibodies, not HIV itself, and that people can test positive for a number of non-specific reasons, including pregnancy.

Thus, pic concludes that HIV does not cause AIDS and further speculates that a growing number of diseases are opportunistically and arbitrarily bundled under the nebulous AIDS umbrella. It calls for a re-examination of the whole concept of AIDS and HIV.

The main proponents of this theory include once-prominent Nobel-nominated scientist Peter Duesberg, whose stock in the scientific community declined sharply once he began second-guessing the role of HIV, and personable, articulate activist Christine Maggiore, who has lived healthily without AIDS medication since she was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1992. She now heads a large grassroots organization which militates against HIV drug treatments. She is also the wife of helmer Robin Scovill (a fact the documentary neglects to mention).

Various other men and women diagnosed with HIV, but electing not to take drugs, weigh in with testimonies. Particularly interesting are those who allege that support groups in fact encourage fatalism and contribute to death: any belief in the ability to beat the odds is considered a form of denial that needs to be quickly nipped in the bud. One interviewee likens this to primitive societies’ death-inducing beliefs in taboos and spells.

Most doctors and scientists believe that Maggiore and her adherents are, at best, dangerously misguided (some critics liken them to Holocaust deniers) since her ideas encourage people to shun medication that can prolong their lives. This argument would seem perfectly rational, except in the mouths of those fanatics chosen by Scovill to advocate the accepted viewpoint.

Dr. Chares Farthing, medical director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, might have been chosen by Central Casting as the oh-so-complacent naysayer in any biopic of misunderstood genius — the one who superciliously mocks Pasteur or Einstein only to be proven completely wrong-headed in the final reel.

Mark Wainberg, past president of the Intl. AIDS Society, actually accuses anyone who perpetrates the idea that HIV is not the cause of AIDS as motivated by pure evil and actively wanting millions of people to die. He suggests amending the Constitution so that scientists like Duesberg could be imprisoned for putting forth such barbaric ideas.

Pic’s weakest argument by far, advanced largely by lay persons, places the blame for the epidemic on the drug-taking promiscuity of the American gay lifestyle in the late ’70s/early ’80s, exacerbated by the use of amyl nitrate “poppers.” This shaky theory manages to place the blame exclusively on homosexual behavior and conveniently leave Africa and the rest of the world out of the equation.

Scovill probably scores the most points in an emotion-charged interview with an HIV-positive mother forced by the State to give her newborn infant AZT although the baby, as well as her husband and other child, all tested negative. The inflexibility of the medical establishment, backed by drug companies and enforced by governmental decree seem in these cases to form an unholy alliance.

Pic, which has been denounced by gay organizations such as ACT UP, has already led to virulent controversy, and promises to become a cause celebre in the medical and gay communities.

The Other Side of AIDS

Production

A Hazel Wood Pictures production. Produced by Robin Scovill. Executive producer, Robert Leppo. Co-producer, Eric E. Paulson. Directed, edited by Robin Scovill.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Scovill; music, B. Mossman, Foo Fighters, Warm Wires. Reviewed on videocassette at NewFest, New York, June 10, 2004. Running time: 85 MIN.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more