COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILT
USA / 1989 / 82 min / English / Documentary
Director: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Cast: Dustin Hoffman (narrator)
The Skinny: Grab the Kleenex for this Heavy Blanket
Plato Score: A+
The Oscar winner for Best Documentary, Common Threads is a simple and moving portrait of families and their loss during the height if the HIV/AIDS crisis in the US.
By 1988 more people had died from AIDS than from the Vietnam War. And still, the government was doing little to address the mounting health crisis as it affected marginalized groups such as gays and drug users. Enter the AIDS Quilt to change public perception.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt was a project that began in the mid-80s that stitched together 3-ft by 6-ft quilted panels to commemorate lives lost to the AIDS pandemic. Several years on, the simple project expanded to tens of thousands of panels, involved numerous countries and became the world’s largest folk art project to date.
The documentary is based on book by Cindy Ruskin, and follows several survivors and the simple grief of their stories: There’s Dr Tom Waddell, a successful athlete cut down in the prime of his life as told by his good friend, Sarah; There’s Suzi and David Mandell who lost their hemophiliac child, David Jr.; There’s the Christian widow Sallie Perryman whose husband Rob passed away after years of drug abuse, passing the virus on to her; and most notably is Vito Russo, activist and author of The Celluloid Closet, who tells of losing his long-term partner Jeffrey Sevcik.
Common Threads is gut-wrenching in its simplicity: straight-forward interviews of family/friends talking about those they lost set against images of the sprawling quilt in front of the National Mall in Washington. Try not to be moved.