Documentary film “Desert Migration” planned to let HIV+ elders of Palm Springs tell their stories


In the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, those who were diagnosed with it could do nothing but put their affairs in order and wait to die; however, when treatments improved and the disease was turned into something other than an automatic death sentence, many who had thought they had no future were left wondering, “Well…now what?”

For many, the answer—or at least part of it—turned out to be “retire to Palm Springs.” The desert resort city in southern California was perfect for a multitude of reasons: high-quality healthcare, affordable housing, the weather is great year-round, and it already had a large LGBT population. However, despite hopes that their new home would be a completely fresh start, it’s hard to leave behind the past when it’s still having a significant impact on the future.

Film producer Daniel F. Cardone, a friend to many in the area, saw that while much of the rest of the world has all but regulated HIV/AIDS to being a thing of a past, it is still very much a present-day issue in Palm Springs. “On the whole, even if you’re part of the gay community, you’ve moved on to the next cause,” he told 429Magazine. “But HIV is still around, AIDS is still around, and people living with HIV are growing older and finding themselves confronted with an increasing number of problems caused by either the medications or the virus itself.”

In the US today, the fastest growing demographic of people living with HIV/AIDS are those over fifty, those who made up the first generation of AIDS patients; however, the medications keeping them alive were never tested very thoroughly, resulting in large numbers of patients who have no choice but to depend on drugs with effects that were never studied long-term.

Cardone explained, “Every time they take their pills, every time they go to the doctor, every time they wake up with some mystery ailment or pain—they are reminded of what they’ve lost, what they’ve been through and what they have still to go through.”

Frustrated with a lack of progress on other projects, his partner inspired him to start a new one: “a film about what was right in front of me—dozens of my friends, and thousands of people in the larger community who had moved to Palm Springs after the devastation that HIV and AIDS had wreaked on their lives. They’d watched all their friends die, and indeed were told themselves that they weren’t going to be around much longer. Medications improved drastically, but by that point a lot of the damage was done.”

He told 429Magazine, “I wanted these men to be able to tell their stories, and I wanted to do it in a way that was visually interesting, evocative and highly emotional. As such, I didn’t want to make a traditional documentary. There are no ‘talking heads’ in this film, no people talking to the camera. No professionals giving their educated opinions. No statistics. It is a relentlessly personal experience, told by the men who are living this and filtered through their subjective prism. And the perfect backdrop for this experience the desert oasis town of Palm Springs, which with its faded mid-century glamour. The most surprising aspect of the actual making of the film has been that it has been unexpectedly cathartic for a lot of the men I’ve been interviewing. It’s been like a therapy session, the opportunity to confront events and personal philosophies.

“Originally, it was going to be a short film I made on the weekends, but it just kept growing. I needed help, so I contacted award-winning producer Marc Smolowitz, who I had worked with on the feature film ‘Still Around’ (to which I contributed a segment), to see if he was interested in being a very hands-off Executive Producer. The ‘hands-off’ part didn’t last long. With Marc’s help, the project became even more ambitious, becoming a feature length film.”

That project, “Desert Migration,” is about half-done with filming, with plans for shooting more footage in February 2014. However, both filming and editing is expensive; so, they’ve set up a fundraiser on Indiegogo.

The campaign started on November 12, and runs until January 11, 2014; they’re aiming to raise $30,000. Because they’re working together with the HIV Story Project, a registered non-profit, all donations are tax-deductible.

According to the fundraiser page, the documentary isn’t all they’re working on: “we are establishing social media platforms to draw attention to the subject of aging with HIV/AIDS. These platforms will allow people to tell their own stories, as well as find information, networks and educational resources. We hope that ‘Desert Migration’ will be a powerful springboard for an ongoing public discussion on aging with HIV/AIDS.”

To drum up excitement for the film, a new trailer will be launched this World AIDS Day, December 1.

In addition to a Facebook page, “Desert Migration” also has a Twitter; its fundraiser page can be found here.


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Just another multi-disciplinary writer and bundle of contradictions trying to figure out how to get the most out of life, and make a living while I'm at it.

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