The Lazarus Effect

Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs come together to film a documentary about living with HIV/Aids that is shot through with hope and compassion

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This coming Monday, the collaborative efforts of Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs will be premiered on television in the documentary The Lazarus Effect. The half-hour programme follows the lives of individuals who suffer from the degenerative effects of HIV/Aids and the radical transformations they all experience by acquiring the life-changing anti-retrovial drugs. The documentary, in collaboration with (RED), promotes the knowledge and awareness of the medicine, which costs around just twenty pence per day. The visually outstanding improvement in the featured individuals’ strength only highlights the importance of increasing access to the prescriptions, and the continued support for the cause. Dazed Digital spoke to Lance Bangs to find out more...

Dazed Digital: How did you become involved with the (Red) project? Was it a collaborative idea between yourself and Spike Jonze, or did the charity approach you?
Lance Bangs: I became involved in The Lazarus Effect through Spike Jonze, who I’ve worked with quite often. We were finishing up another film about Maurice Sendak, and when the urgency of this project became clear I dropped what I was working on and boarded a plane with Sheila Roche from (RED) while Spike was completing Where The Wild Things Are. He was able to talk about ideas and give notes as the film unfurled.

DD: In a world filled with instability and destruction, why was this particular issue one that you were interested in raising?
Lance Bangs: As a filmmaker, the clear difference in people going from being near death to looking much healthier was a fascinating visual and emotional structure for a film. On a more personal level, I had lost friends over the years to Aids and Aids-related illnesses, so I have had a core internal connection to the issue. I’ve watched friends waste away and wither to death. This was a chance to see people go the opposite direction in a glorious way.

DD: This is an extremely different project to a lot of your other work – why did you decide to move towards a documentary as serious as one to promote the awareness of AIDs and the ARV drugs?
Lance Bangs: I’ve made all sorts of personal films in my life, and sort of wandered to wherever things seemed most interesting. It was a great challenge but I think that my personal approach worked well with this subject.

DD: How did you prepare yourself for such a challenge as this? Did you have to prepare emotionally?
Lance Bangs: Yeah, I’m comfortable around people who are HIV-positive and I braced myself for what death feels like in a room. Still, the few people I filmed and befriended who didn’t receive access to the treatment until it was too late were hard losses to go through. They definitely echo around my mind.

DD: You form such close bonds and build a sense of trust with many of the subjects you document. How did this transfer to the subjects in this documentary?
Lance Bangs: I think that is true in my work, I’m not a traditionally charismatic person but I do seem to connect intimately with people when I am filming, to make them comfortable and bond with them in a way that leads to deeply personal, unguarded footage. I was relieved to see that this worked across cultural barriers as well.

DD: Was there any particular story in the documentary that resonated most strongly for you? Did you form any close friendships whilst you were filming?
Lance Bangs: The story of how mothers can avoid transmitting HIV to their babies was the most surprising thing that I learned while making the film. Honestly, it felt apparent to me that what would make the biggest difference in reducing prevalency of HIV/Aids in the places I filmed would be for women to continue gaining more power and control over their lives. Historically, they have been subjugated to decisions made by men, and haven’t had the autonomy to control their health, education, employment, and sexuality fully. Gaining that control could speed up the progress they are making.

DD: In the documentary, Constance says the only reason she had an HIV-test is because her husband had one – in your own opinion, do you think the test should be compulsory in Africa?
Lance Bangs: I was personally shocked how comfortable and open most people were about voluntarily being tested. Huge numbers of teenagers would come out to free soccer events, and then accept to take the HIV-tests being given, and were cool with being filmed doing so. They had broken through the stigma that I might have had at that age. Constance had avoided it back when there was no treatment available and it was basically a death sentence, but now that free treatment exists in parts of Africa the people I observed seemed more willing to go test without needing to be forced to.

The Lazarus Effect will air on C4 in Britain on May 24
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