This documentary film is narrated by Dustin Hoffman; all other characters play themselves. Five stories (pathographies) introduced as panels from the 14-acre AIDS quilt are interwoven with each other, together with personal photos, newsreels and radio reports to recount the history of the first decade of AIDS in the United States.

Tom was a highly educated and athletic, gay man whose story is told by his lesbian friend and co-parent of his adored little daughter. Rob was a married Afro-American, I.V.-drug-user whose loving wife recounts his battle with drugs as well as his disease and who views her own HIV seropositivity as "God’s will." Jeff’s story is told by his grieving male lover over images of his once golden health.

The parents of twelve-year-old hemophiliac, David, tell the story of his entire life as a rush to consume, from his babyhood forward until the sadness of his last Christmas. The shy, handsome architect, David, is mourned by his bisexual lover, a naval officer at the Pentagon, who now lies dying with the lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma quite visible on his face.

The narrators describe solace they derived from quilting memorial panels for their loved ones. In the final scene, the AIDS quilt lies on the Mall in Washington as names of hundreds of loved ones are read by grieving families and friends.


A moving documentary film that humanizes the tragedy of AIDS through stories told within the milestones of its history: the lengthy delays in action; the president who would not utter the word; the movie star who acknowledged his disease after 15,000 had already died. Learning about the five tales emphasizes the awesome scope of the tragedy in the final scene: each panel and each name must recall an equally diverse and cherished life cut short.

As the camera slowly pulls back high above the patches of colour in the evening light, I was reminded of the famous, expanding scene midway through, Gone with the Wind, as Scarlet O’Hara picks her way through the waste of Civil War wounded and dead. This documentary is equally political, and it too is a love story.


All profits to NAMES Project Foundation (tel. 415-863-1966); Academy Award, 1989, for Best Feature Documentary.

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