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The Gift

Agift indeed to homophobes and public health hysterics, dubiously well-intentioned docu "The Gift" suggests -- with paltry evidence -- that large sectors of the gay community are willfully infecting themselves with HIV.

Agift indeed to homophobes and public health hysterics, dubiously well-intentioned docu “The Gift” suggests — with paltry evidence — that large sectors of the gay community are willfully infecting themselves with HIV. Tabloid tenor and focus on a few dysfunctional personalities make ostensibly neutral pic’s reporting highly suspect. Irresponsible and ill-suited for educational purposes, pic faces an ancillary career that will be, one hopes, stifled by pic’s questionable, alarmist and one-sided p.o.v.

Transmission rates and unprotected sex have indeed been on the rise among American gay men since drug therapies available in the last few years rendered HIV infection far less of a death sentence. But by eliminating any voices that might contradict its rather hysterical thesis, docu suggests heedless, sex-crazed gay men en masse are saying adieu to condom use. At one point, pic informs that “80 or 90 percent” of the gay male community “barebacks” (has unprotected anal sex). This estimate comes from two drag queens in a bar.

Only two case studies are presented here. Sole interviewee outside San Francisco, one Kenboy, lives in a communal place known as “the L.A. Sex House,” and actually posts an Internet announcement inviting all to attend his all-night-orgy birthday party — at which he fully expects to seroconvert.

Other main figure is Doug, a shrill immigrant from the Midwest to S.F., where he got infected at age 19 because he thought he would “fit in” better socially as HIV+. (Doug was also the major “example” cited in an equally scare-mongering Rolling Stone article earlier this year.) Now blaming social pressure he whines “I’ve made a terrible mistake!” in “diary-cam” sequences so studiedly histrionic he might as well be rehearsing a teary audition monologue.

These two young men hardly seem representative. Lack of other first-person testimonies further erodes trust in helmer Louise Hogarth’s reportage that HIV- “bug-chasers” are ritualistically seeking the “gift” of infection at “conversion parties.” Whether the existence of such events is an exaggerated rumor or a cause for real concern isn’t even questioned by pic. Typically, alarming statistics at the end go unattributed.

Even at brief running time, docu is repetitious and feels padded (sequences at a Gay Rodeo are particularly irrelevant). Frenetic editing reduces all commentary to sound bites ending with exclamation points; ominous synthesizer music and over busy graphics further advance project’s tabloid-TV feel.

The Gift

Production: A Dream Out Loud production. Produced, directed by Louise Hogarth.

Crew: Camera (color, mini DV), May Rigler; editor, Mario Del Bello; music, Tom Batoy, Franco Tortora; sound designer, David Streefkerk. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 21, 2003. Running time: 62 MIN.

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