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Reel Life: casualties of AIDS

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By the time Zack Stiglicz finished his doctoral dissertation on "War and Alliance Behavior Among the Major Powers of Europe" between 1815 and 1939, his passion for teaching international strategy was flagging. Stiglicz began instead teaching courses like Meaning, Drama, and Aesthetics in Films of Violence, Revolution, and War. Now the 41-year-old Chicagoan teaches filmmaking at the School of the Art Institute.

Shifting from international to interpersonal politics, Stiglicz has curated an evening of experimental films made in the warlike climate created by AIDS. "The Worlds of Emotion in the Time of AIDS" demonstrates how some filmmakers have registered the lives and deaths of friends defeated by the virus. Emotional casualties are everywhere.

Stiglicz himself discovered he was HIV-positive in 1985. "Having to face this kind of mortal question at such a relatively young age--sometimes it's absolutely overwhelming," he says. "And for that reason I've taken great pleasure in seeing how others have dealt with this issue. The films I'm showing are attempts by seven different people to give voice to other people near and dear to them when those people are starting to lose their capacity to give voice to their own lives."

Filmmaker Lidia Szajko wrote that her film A Constant State of Departure "grew entirely out of one persistent image which refused to leave me alone. The image was of someone I loved leaving. Walking away. For good. Again and again. The experience it was born from was that of someone I cared for very deeply literally disappearing before my eyes, withering away through the course of an excruciatingly painful death of AIDS."

In Song From an Angel, Rodney Price, one of the founders of the San Francisco theater troupe Angels of Light, gets to sing his swan song--and tap dance a few steps in his wheelchair--just two weeks before dying. Borrowing a melody from Kurt Weill's "One Life to Live," he croons: "There's an element of doom and desperation when I'm the subject of the conversation. . . . You say I'm thinner, take me to dinner, 'cause I've less time than you."

"You can't look away," says Stiglicz about this gripping film by David Weissman. "I'm glad he makes us look because it is so convenient on the street to look the other way. But at a screening you're stuck in this amniotic darkness where something has to be born out of your own fear of what you're looking at, and you can't look away. I'm glad you can't. Because the way this man just belts out these lyrics, he can't help but grab some part of you. Because that could be you or myself in a very short time.

"Many HIV-negative people, I feel--even if they don't feel this way--project an air of superiority over HIV-positives. I'm put off by the fact that there is not enough survivor guilt, but when I assess why it emerged in Hiroshima I realize I don't really want our culture to drive people toward guilt. I want them to be driven toward something else that I probably don't have a name for, which is a sentiment somewhere in between taking care with your own body and giving an enormous amount of compassion and tenderness and concrete help to other bodies that are in need."

The screening, presented by the Experimental Film Coalition Friday at Randolph Street Gallery, 756 N. Milwaukee, is a benefit for the AIDS Alternative Health Program. Also featured is performance artist Lawrence Steger, who will present Despicable, with musical accompaniment from Handel's Messiah. Donation: minimum of $5. There will be shows at 7 and 9:15. More info at 666-7737.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Stamets.

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