There is no shortage of fear and heartache in HBO’s candid docu series “Pandemic: Facing AIDS.” Director Rory Kennedy’s frank look at individuals around the world who have contracted the disease eschews politics and agendas while focusing strictly on the victims, their deterioration and, considering the countries she visits, their lack of any socialized, significant care whatsoever.
Whereas many AIDS projects often go out of their way to include hope and spirit, the five-part “Pandemic,” narrated by Elton John, is comparatively depressing on all accounts at all times. There are touching moments — a woman returns home from a hospice to see her family one last time, a Ugandan couple gets tested and results come back negative — but cabler’s latest Sunday entry is wholly difficult and devastating to view.
First hour has two episodes; in Thailand, where the sex trade flourishes and where for years the government denied there was a health crisis, ex-prostitute Lek is spending her last few weeks in a monastery while literally holding on to old photos she has saved. Now among others who are trying to die in peace, she makes one last trek in order to say goodbye to her mother, father and son.
Second half-hour travels to Uganda, where an orphanage is overflowing with poor children whose parents have died. Most poignant scene comes when their overworked teacher leads them in an AIDS anthem that easily brings out everybody’s tears.
Kennedy doesn’t utilize any distinctive techniques, but the subject matter is handled with utmost sensitivity, and her message hits home with authority: The problem is truly global and tragedy knows no limits. (Future nights spotlight Russia, India and Brazil.) Co-funded by Bill Gates’ philanthropic foundation, “Pandemic” features a haunting original score by Philip Glass.