The tragedy of the global AIDS pandemic is given a voice and a soul in Robert Bilheimer’s passionate documentary “A Closer Walk.” Spanning several countries and socio-economic conditions, the film offers a view of how a thoroughly preventable disease like AIDS continues to destroy too many lives.
The statistics are numbing: 10,000 people die from AIDS each day, or one every eight seconds. The vast majority of AIDS cases (95%) originate in the developing world. In the United States, AIDS is the number one killer of African-American men between the ages of 25 and 49; half of all new American HIV/AIDS infections occur in the African-American communities.
Yet the individual stories of people living with or dying from AIDS gives a greater immediacy to the crisis. From an emaciated child in a Ugandan hospital bed who can barely open her fingers to an articulate teenager from the same country addressing a White House conference to a gay American who bitterly recalls the violent discrimination he received in the early years of the AIDS era to an overcrowded hospital in India where patients take turn sharing beds, the view is a mix of tragedy, courage, despair and fraying hope.
In some ways, Bilheimer dilutes the stark effectiveness of his images and interviews by padding the proceeding with synthetic expressions of tsk-tsking from the likes of Bono, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Dalai Lama (all of whom seem more interested in promoting themselves rather than calling the world to action). The alternating narration between Glenn Close (who is wonderful) and Will Smith (who is not) creates aural disparity, while soundtrack selections from the likes of Eric Clapton, Aaron Neville and Sade seem to soften the grim picture (a lack of music would’ve been more efficient).
Still, “A Closer Walk” reminds us that we still have a great distance to cover in stomping out AIDS. For that reason, it is highly recommended.