’The Battle of amfAR’ Debuts on HBO
Through the month of December, HBO Documentary Films will present "The Battle of amfAR," the story of the founding of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the nation’s first AIDS research foundation, by Elizabeth Taylor and research scientist Dr. Mathilde Krim. The thought-provoking documentary is a must-see for all who lived through the darkest days of the AIDS pandemic.
"Our goal with this film is to let people know that HIV/AIDS is still with us - it’s not over till it’s over - and to spread the word that with enough support it may be possible to find a cure and end the epidemic once and for all," said filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman in an interview on the film’s website. Their previous HBO credits include the Oscar®-winning "Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt," the Emmy®-winning "The Celluloid Closet" and "Paragraph 175." Epstein also directed the Oscar®-winning film "The Times of Harvey Milk."
In 1981, research scientist Dr. Mathilde Krim learned of unusual cancer cases, all of which involved gay men showing up in the medical practice of a friend. A politically and socially active New Yorker, she was eager to learn all she could about the disease, and when people began to die, the potential magnitude of the problem became a concern. In response, Dr. Krim and a few colleagues committed their own money to gaining a better understanding of the disease.
AIDS research found an unlikely ally in Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor, who was devastated by the loss of her good friend, actor Rock Hudson, to the disease. When Dr. Krim called Taylor to see if she would be interested in getting involved with the cause, the actress agreed immediately, and amfAR, the first national organization to mobilize the scientific community in the fight against AIDS, was born. As they started speaking out about the disease and the need for research, Krim recalled that Taylor "was terrific. She was moving. The public responded to her."
"No one is safe... It is not just a minority disease. It belongs to all of us," testified Taylor before Congress. "I ask here and now for the national leadership that is necessary to fully appropriate this bill. Because I will continue to come and ask for it again, and again... And I will not be silenced, and I will not give up, and I will not be ignored."
Taylor pressured President Ronald Reagan to acknowledge the existence of HIV/AIDS as a worldwide pandemic and convinced him to speak at an amfAR fundraiser. Both women were leaders, sharing an activist spirit.
"Dr. Krim was very impatient about what she saw as red tape, and Elizabeth was too, and I think that’s what they had in common, that activist spirit," noted Taylor’s former publicist, Sally Morrison, who was an early amfAR employee.
The Fight Continues
By the mid-90s, AIDS was the leading cause of death for Americans age 25-44. In 1996, research partially funded by amfAR led to lifesaving new drugs that made HIV/AIDS treatable, a diagnosis that no longer guaranteed a death sentence. Facing the prospect of patients requiring lifelong therapy to survive, amfAR continued its diligent search for a cure.
In addition to recent and archival interviews with Krim and archival footage of Taylor, "The Battle of amfAR" features interviews with amfAR chairman Kenneth Cole, AIDS activist Richard Berkowitz, philanthropist Aileen Getty (Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter-in-law), journalist Regan Hofmann, New York University microbiologist Dr. Nathanial Landau, AIDS researcher Dr. Jeffrey Laurence, researcher Dr. Mario Stevenson and Black AIDS Institute founder Phill Wilson, among others.
Since its inception in 1985, amfAR has invested more than $366 million in HIV/AIDS-related research programs and awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams worldwide. Elizabeth Taylor passed away in 2011, but Dr. Krim and amfAR continue their quest for a cure.
Someone is infected with HIV in the U.S. every ten minutes, and an estimated 30 million people have died from AIDS since the epidemic began. Although the war against AIDS is not over, the great victories in the history of research could not have been won without these two women, who stood up for the good of truth and human dignity in the face of illness and fear.
For more information, visit www.thebattleofamfar.com or connect with them on Facebook at facebook.com/hbodocs.