Together is a behind-the-scenes documentary of Chinse director Gu Changwei’s upcoming feature film Life is a Miracle (2011), which exposes the discrimination faced by HIV/AIDS patients in China. Zhao documented the interactions of the cast and crew as they came face-to-face with the disease during the production. Initially, many only showed fear because of their ignorance of the disease. Their attitude slowly started to change as they learned the science behind it. Zhao explains, “discrimination still exists because people lack knowledge and mainstream media stigmatizes the disease.” His goal is to inform people about the disease and fight the discrimination so as to bring hope to China’s 740,000 HIV-infected population.
More or less a solitary documentary filmmaker, Zhao has completed most of his documentaries alone. His works include Petition (2009), which was officially selected by the Cannes Film Festival, and Crime and Punishment (2007), which we distribute here at dGenerate Films. Together suggests something quite different from Zhao’s previous work style. As a matter of fact, it is not an independent production but a not-for-profit film. Zhao expressed his commitment to making it despite its source of funding because he believed in its educational value and society-changing power. As Edwards quotes him saying, “if the film has social value then it’s worth making.”
A few other observations about the documentary have also been made. Edwards writes, “If Together illustrates Zhao’s point by showing us the prejudices HIV carriers suffer, his documentary also highlights the positive effects of education.” The examples that he gives are the information sessions attended by the film crew. In addition to that, “[t]he broader social context of HIV is also traced in Together, as Zhao Liang delves into online chat rooms set up by HIV sufferers.”
Together was shown in public theaters throughout January in Beijing. Edwards calls it “a step in the right direction” because “this is the first of Zhao’s films to have an official release in mainland China.” Unfortunately, it could take a while for Petition and Crime and Punishment to have the same opportunity and meet the Chinese audience in mainland China.