The narrative of IP is one that has been more or less hegemonized over the last 30 years. Simply stated, it is that “IP rights are good. Moreover, IP rights are necessary”. More controversially though, this narrative is “logically” extended to: “If IP is good, more IP must be better”. Despite the various nuances and details that IP regimes have displayed, this simplistic narrative still holds a powerful role in both public discourse as well as policy making. Several studies have shown that this simplistic take can be quite inadequate. However, as Lisa Ouellette has recently discussed, perhaps the model of communication of countervailing results needs to be improved for more meaningful discussion and debate. In the mean time though, powerful presentations of divergent views can play a large role in mobilization of subaltern views and this is exactly what Fire in the Blood is. A powerful presentation, in an easily digestible mainstream media format, that contradicts the simplistic narrative of IP that is currently dominant.
“If one death is a tragedy and a million deaths is a statistic, then this is a film about statistics.”
Easily the best thing I’ve watched on the big screen this year, this hard hitting film brings to light an issue that touches us all, whether we know it or not – the issue of which medicines are accessible to us and which are not – and the reasons or lack thereof. It focuses on the AIDS crisis at the turn of the millenium and the reasons behind more than 10 million deaths. It focuses on the casual acceptance of the ‘necessity’ of these deaths. It focuses on those who had the moral & political responsibility to do something about this, and it focuses on those who actually did do something about this.
Despite the ease with which this could’ve turned into a purely rhetorical “access to medicines for all” tune, to his great credit I do believe the director avoided unnecessary ‘drama’ and that the film had a more or less balanced tenor to it. A terrific collection of facts and statistics weaved into the narration of about 110 minutes leaves the viewer with much more than baseless claims of unfairness. In fact, despite having studied this area for the last few years, I too came away from it with a couple of new facts and perspectives. An example of a simple but powerful perspective, is voiced by James Love, “If it was 30-40 million white people without access to treatment, it would be the most important question you could possibly imagine.” (in the context of no one in power asking why it was acceptable for 30-40 million people in developing countries to be dying from AIDS when there a treatment existed). The film leaves one wondering how it has been possible that this story is one that hasn’t captured more attention thus far. While exposing a deplorable facet of the world, the film is one of hope and courage. Focusing on a band of concerned parties, (including Dr Peter Mugyenyi, James Love, Zachie Achmat & Yusuf Hamied, as well as stories of a few affected individuals across 4 continents), it shows how forces were successfully mobilized despite the enormous odds. The film was narrated by William Hurt and also featured some commentary from the likes of Desmond Tutu, Bill Clinton and Joseph Stiglitz, adding more power to its punch.
[Spoiler Alert: In what I thought was a particularly powerful moment, the film shows HIV positive Achmat, in an act of solidarity with fellow patients, refusing to take any of the treatment he had available to him until the government made treatment accessible to his fellow countrymen as well].
I’d strongly recommend that everyone catches this film – though this takes me to my one critique of it. It is logistically hard to catch this film! This award winning film had releases in various parts of the world at different times, with the release in 4 Indian cities happening last week. However, in Bangalore where I currently am, it had only 1 show in 1 theatre for just 1 week. I’ve had friends in US and parts of Europe say that they really want to watch this movie but can’t find a theatre or an online store they could find it at. This is a film that I feel really should have a large audience and while nothing can be done about which theatres decide to screen this, I do hope the producers find ways to make it available to a wider audience as soon as is practically viable. But for those who can, please do catch this film!
Trailer available here.