Directed by Louise Hogarth
Starring Doug Hitzel
Runtime 62min. - For Adults
4 Stars (out of 4)
"The Gift" is free to watch on SnagFilms.
I couldn't find the film's poster or trailer. I've instead embedded the movie at the top of the page.
I would like to make clear that the views expressed here are based largely on the material in the film. If that material is inaccurate or misleading then many of my statements are as well. The only thing I'm sure of is that I support the health, happiness, and rights of all humans regardless of their sexuality or gender identity.
Pride parades are something I've always supported. It's awesome that a oft-discriminated minority group organizes events to keep the public aware of their presence. It's important that a community sees LGBT people as humans, and what better way to do that than a celebration? After seeing "The Gift", I wonder if the LGBT communities shouldn't promote a shame parade as well. It may sound offensive, but isn't saving lives worth it? To the LGBT, specifically gay men, it could be more important to acknowledge shame than pride. I'm not saying that gay men should be ashamed of their sexuality. I don't believe that at all. But if they have casual unprotected sex, they should be ashamed. They put themselves, their partners, and any partners they may have in the future in danger.
"The Gift" dates back to 2003. I really don't know if the issues presented in the film are as relevant today. I hope that things have changed, but it's a really tough to attain accurate data about people's sex lives. Louise Hogarth's film is impressive in overcoming that obstacle. There are gay men in various stages of life that all open up to the camera. The result is a powerful documentary.
One of our subjects is a certified bug-chaser. He makes no effort to hide his desire to get HIV. Actually, he invites 100's of HIV-positive men to his birthday party where they can take turns having sex with him on camera. His reasoning for bug-chasing is simple, but stupid. He believes that he'll end up with HIV anyway and that purposefully getting sick is better than the anxiety. He also feels that having HIV will open up a whole other community of potential sexual partners. He may be right about this, but is it worth it? Of course not.
Another subject has taken a less promiscuous road to HIV. He had sex with a single partner who he knew was infected. He, too, felt like having HIV would lead to a happier life, as if he would finally fit in. The difference in this instance is that this young man realized his mistake. As the film ends he's in college, struggling to fight through his fatigue on a daily basis. It's folks like him who would acknowledge their shame in hopes of nudging others off the same path.
To provide some clarity on things we're presented with a panel of four middle-aged, gay, HIV-positive men. Not a single one of them would describe their disease as a gift. Most of them are on disability and have already endured heart-attacks. Together they muse about the reputation HIV. It used to be an acronym that invoked fear. Thanks to better medications the gay community was able to suppress the idea that HIV was a death sentence. Pharmaceutical companies didn't help matters by putting sexy, smiling, and scantily clad men on the ads for HIV drugs. This resulted in HIV-positive men being more optimistic about life. Unfortunately, it also resulted in HIV-negative men taking less preventative measures.
It sad that the young people in the film think it's safe to have sex when both partners are HIV-positive. HIV can have various strands that can be more dangerous when combined. Also, having a compromised immune system means that the person is more likely to catch other diseases from their partner. Even something as simple as the flu has dangerous implications.
There seems to be two main problems present in the film, but only one is really explored. The one that's discussed at length is the reputation of HIV. One young man noted that he was more scared by anti-Hepatitis ads than anti-HIV ads. He also admitted that he had never smoked because PSAs had scared him away from cigarettes. It's not an outlandish claim when you see the ads and PSAs in the film.
The other problem, the one that's avoided, is sexual promiscuity. The film seems to take a stand against "bareback" sex parties. That's an orgy that where people don't use protection and don't asks for the HIV status of others. There's nothing really said about the nature of sex parties in general. If you only had this film as a reference, you'd think there were many more homosexual orgies than heterosexual. I have no idea if that's true. I think (and hope) that it's not. Disease will spread less quickly simply by being selective with one's sexual partners. Using protection while practicing monogamy has to be safer than using protection while having group sex. For a person who hates condoms, an STD screening is all that stands between them and safe, unprotected sex.
"The Gift" has been described as a controversial film. I don't see the controversy. In fact, I think it's an important film. Again, I don't know how relevant the topic is today, but it seems clear to me that spreading HIV is a bad thing. If only one person gets that message then the film is a success.