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HISTORY


       According to the 14 Oct 1989 LAHExam review, after writing, producing, and directing the 1987 documentary Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (see entry), San Francisco, CA-resident Bob Couturie was approached by Home Box Office (HBO) network for new project ideas. Couturie’s wife had just viewed the AIDS Memorial Quilt when it was first displayed in Washington, D.C. and suggested it to her husband as his next documentary subject. Around the same time, Couturie’s cousin was diagnosed with AIDS. Meanwhile, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, also from San Francisco, happened upon the quilt accidentally during a visit to the capital and got the idea to make a film about it, as stated in a 16-22 Mar 1990 Village View article. Couturie, Epstein, and Friedman teamed with Sandollar Productions and HBO to make Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt for $650,000.
       The film’s five interview subjects, or “Storytellers” as they are credited onscreen, were chosen from letters sent to the NAMES Project, the organization responsible for the quilt. Epstein and Friedman spoke to 200 letter-writers over the phone, narrowed their choices down to sixty, then filmed the remaining candidates to select the final five. Narrator Dustin Hoffman and musician Bobby McFerrin agreed to participate in the film for no pay.
       As noted in the 16-22 Mar 1990 Village View, one of the documentary’s subjects, Navy Commander Tracy Torrey, died of AIDS while the documentary was still in production. Torrey’s family did not wish for him to appear in the film and threatened a lawsuit. However, Torrey had requested to be included as his “dying wish,” and the ... More Less


       According to the 14 Oct 1989 LAHExam review, after writing, producing, and directing the 1987 documentary Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (see entry), San Francisco, CA-resident Bob Couturie was approached by Home Box Office (HBO) network for new project ideas. Couturie’s wife had just viewed the AIDS Memorial Quilt when it was first displayed in Washington, D.C. and suggested it to her husband as his next documentary subject. Around the same time, Couturie’s cousin was diagnosed with AIDS. Meanwhile, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, also from San Francisco, happened upon the quilt accidentally during a visit to the capital and got the idea to make a film about it, as stated in a 16-22 Mar 1990 Village View article. Couturie, Epstein, and Friedman teamed with Sandollar Productions and HBO to make Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt for $650,000.
       The film’s five interview subjects, or “Storytellers” as they are credited onscreen, were chosen from letters sent to the NAMES Project, the organization responsible for the quilt. Epstein and Friedman spoke to 200 letter-writers over the phone, narrowed their choices down to sixty, then filmed the remaining candidates to select the final five. Narrator Dustin Hoffman and musician Bobby McFerrin agreed to participate in the film for no pay.
       As noted in the 16-22 Mar 1990 Village View, one of the documentary’s subjects, Navy Commander Tracy Torrey, died of AIDS while the documentary was still in production. Torrey’s family did not wish for him to appear in the film and threatened a lawsuit. However, Torrey had requested to be included as his “dying wish,” and the filmmakers decided to keep him in the film.
       Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt screened for one week, 13--19 Oct 1989, in Los Angeles, CA, for Academy Award qualification. The television debut took place 15 Oct 1989 on Home Box Office (HBO) network, and a 1 Dec 1989 screening at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) was introduced by Elizabeth Taylor, according to a 29 Nov 1989 Var item.
       Critical reception was largely positive. The 14 Oct 1989 LAT review described the film as a “cinematic quilt” and praised Bobby McFerrin’s music, directing its sole criticism to Dustin Hoffman’s “lethargic” narration. The 14 Oct 1989 LAHExam called the film “magnificent television” and “the best program on HBO this year, the best on cable,” and the 16-22 Mar 1990 Village View echoed LAT’s sentiments regarding McFerrin’s music, calling it “breathtaking and unforgettable.” The film won the Academy Award for Documentary (Feature), an EMMY Award for Best Original Score, the 1989 George Foster Peabody Award, and the 1990 Berlin Film Festival’s Interjury Award.
       A 30 Mar 1990 HR news item noted that the non-profit organization Young Artists United (YAU) was raising funds to distribute 650 copies of the film to members of Congress the following week. YAU was aided in its efforts by the documentary’s recent Academy Award win. Soon after, an 11 Apr 1990 Var brief announced that Direct Cinema Ltd. had booked the film in sixteen theaters that had previously declined to show it, and a San Francisco, CA, opening would take place in two weeks. The film had been showing at the Music Hall theatre in Beverly Hills, CA, since Jan 1990.

      End credits note that Tracy Torrey died in 1988, and include the following statements: “Archival Sources: NBC News Video Archives © 1989 National Broadcasting Co., Inc. All rights reserved, Michael Sosler, Yuien Chin; KRON – San Francisco, Don Sango, Guy Morrison”; “Additional Sources: ALF, Alien Productions, used by permission; Filmworks; Barbara Kerr; ABC News 20/20; A Member of the Wedding courtesy of Columbia Pictures; WBBH – Fort Meyers; MEN/Male Entertainment Network; KGTV – San Diego; National Public Radio”; “News Reporters: Gregg Baker, Robert Bazell, Kevin Boyle, Tom Brokaw, Barton Eckert, Emil Guillermo, Robert Hager, Tim Hass, Kevin McCullough, Andrea Mitchell, John Palmer, Marcia Pally, Jane Pauley, Hampton Pearson, Heidi Schulman, Linda Yee”; “Still Photos Provided by: Anne C. Dowie; Lyvonne Hill; Lynn Johnson/Blackstar Photo Agency; Kerstin Kagelius; Gabe Kruks; Sara Lewinstein; Suzi & David Mandell; Sallie Perryman; US Navy Photograph/Naval Supply Center; Tony Plewik; Rink Foto; Vito Russo; Pat & Ethel Schussler; Tracy Torrey; Ed Lallo/People Weekly, © 1987 Time Inc. Magazine Co. All rights reserved”; “Magazine and Headlines Provided Courtesy of: LIFE Magazine, © Time, Inc.; PEOPLE Weekly, a registered trademark of Time Warner Inc. Used by permission; The New York Times Company © 1981/82, reprinted by permission; Los Angeles Times © 1985, reprinted by permission.” End credits also include “Special Thanks” to: Carol Adamovicz, Dave Angress, Scott Beach, Robert N. Bellah, Betty A. Blair, Ann Block, Frank Browning, Steve Burns, Mike Cherkezian, Malcolm Clark, M. Margaret Clark, Lu Chaikin, Bob Collins, Hector Correa, Marlene Dann, Michelle Dennis, Jon Else, Ariel Emanuel, Pat Ferrero, Cully Frederickson, Estelle Freedman, Sarah Gewirz, Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Linda Goldstein, Michael & Gale Gottlieb, Nicole Grindle, Bob Hawk, Karen Holmes, Doug Holsclaw, Ed Hotson, Ron Jacobs, Sam Keen, Merle Kessler, Steve Linden, Richard Lovett, Tom Luddy, Richard Lulenski, Jay Maloney, Jenny Rebecca Mandell, Michael McShane, Maureen McVerry, Tim Meyers, Tony Molina, Leland Moss, Sandy Nakamura, Davia Nelson, David O’Connor, The Pearson Family, Dorothy Perryman, John & Josie Politano, Marty Richards, Arnold Rifkin, Frank Robinson, Rock Ross, Birgitta Royall, Esther Scott, Jack Schaeffer, Katherine Sheldon, Bob Shoup, Charleigh Swanson, Drew Takahashi, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Teevan, Jo Ann Thompson, Javier Valencia, Daryl Vance, Bill Weber, Jonathan Weisgal, Neon Weiss, Lawrence Wilkenson, Carter Wilson, Brad Wright, Sigrid Wurshmidt, and Adair & Armstrong, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Conference Mailing Service, Creative Artists Agency, Film Arts Foundation, Frameline, National Hemophilia Foundation, Now Voyager, Project Inform, Roxie Cinema, San Diego School District, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Screen Actors Guild, St. Clare’s Hospital & Health Center.

              End credits note that additional funding was provided by Chicago Resource Center and The Paul Robeson Fund, followed by the statements: “This project is made possible in part by a grant from the California Council for the Humanities, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities”; “The filmmakers thank all the participants in the NAMES Project Quilt and the book The Quilt: Stories from the NAMES Project by Cindy Ruksin (published by Pocket Books Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.) for inspiring this film”; “The NAMES Project Staff: Cleve Jones, Co-Founder/Executive Director; Michael J. Smith, Co-Founder/Managing Director; Susan Baelen; Markus Faegle; James H. Fox; Lance Henderson; Paul Hill; Nancy Katz; Jeanette Koijane; Scott Lago; David Lemos; Rebecca Le Pere; Evelyn Martinez; Cindy McMullin; Marcel Miranda; Bob Munk; Sandy O’Rourke; Debra Resnik; Dan Sauro; Charles Sublett; Cheryl Swannack; Wade Walker; Kimberly Webster; Joe van Es-Ballesteros; and Jack Caster, in loving memory”; “The NAMES Project Quilt has raised funds for AIDS organizations across America. All profits from this film will be donated to the NAMES Project Foundation”; and, “To find out more about the NAMES Project, contact: The NAMES Project, P.O. Box 14573, San Francisco 94114, 415/863-5511.” More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Hollywood Reporter
30 Mar 1990.
---
LA Weekly
19 Jan 1990.
---
LAHExam
14 Oct 1989
Section B, p. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times
14 Oct 1989
Calendar, p. 11.
Variety
29 Nov 1989.
---
Variety
11 Apr 1990.
---
Village View
16-22 Mar 1990
pp. 19-20.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An HBO Presentation
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Sandollar, Exec prod
Sandollar, Exec prod
Sandollar, Exec prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Addl cine
Addl cine
Addl cine
Addl cine
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
Gaffer
Grip
Crane op
Title seq still photog
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
Apprentice ed
Negative conforming
MUSIC
Mus comp
Mus supv
Mus rec
Mus rec
Voicestra
Voicestra
Voicestra
Voicestra
Voicestra
Voicestra
Voicestra
Voicestra
Voicestra
Voicestra
VISUAL EFFECTS
Opticals
Opticals
Title des
PRODUCTION MISC
Archival researcher
Prod coord, Washington DC
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Asst to the prods
Asst to Mr. Rosenman
Consultant extraordinaire
Research asst
Research asst
Research asst
Research asst
Prod bookkeeper
Legal services
Legal services
Legal services
Video facilities provided by
Sd stage provided by
Photo reproduction
ANIMATION
Title anim
Photo anim
Camera 3
COLOR PERSONNEL
DETAILS
Release Date:
13 October 1989
Premiere Information:
Mill Valley Film Festival screening: 7 October 1989
Los Angeles opening: 13 October 1989 at Laemmle Theatres, Monica 4 Plex
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
gauge
16mm
Widescreen/ratio
1.33:1
Duration(in mins):
81
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1985, actor Rock Hudson’s death from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) brought widespread attention to the disease, which had already killed 15,000 Americans. Hudson’s name was later added to the AIDS Memorial Quilt, constructed of squares dedicated to AIDS victims. Another name on the quilt is Dr. Tom Waddell. As his close friend, Sara Lewinstein, explains, Tom was an incredible athlete who placed sixth in the decathlon at the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City, Mexico. Sallie Perryman describes her husband, Robert, whose name was added to the quilt after he contracted AIDS from intravenous drug use and died. Robert revealed his drug addiction to Sallie only after they married, but she chose to uphold her marriage vows and support her husband. Vito Russo recalls his friend Jeff Sevcik’s childlike innocence and his favorite film, The Member of the Wedding. Sevcik, a homosexual, identified with the movie’s protagonist, “Frankie,” who also felt like an outsider. Jeff’s name is now on the quilt, along with David Mandell, Jr., a spirited boy with hemophilia who died at an early age after contracting the disease through a blood transfusion. Navy Cdr. Tracy Torrey, who was once married to a woman with whom he had a family, describes his subsequent romantic relationship with David C. Campbell, who also died of AIDS. In 1981, the disease was understood to be a virus and deemed a “rare cancer” that suppresses the immune system. Bobbi Campbell, a homosexual nurse with the sixteenth known case of AIDS in San Francisco, California, became an activist for the disease and called himself “the ... +


In 1985, actor Rock Hudson’s death from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) brought widespread attention to the disease, which had already killed 15,000 Americans. Hudson’s name was later added to the AIDS Memorial Quilt, constructed of squares dedicated to AIDS victims. Another name on the quilt is Dr. Tom Waddell. As his close friend, Sara Lewinstein, explains, Tom was an incredible athlete who placed sixth in the decathlon at the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City, Mexico. Sallie Perryman describes her husband, Robert, whose name was added to the quilt after he contracted AIDS from intravenous drug use and died. Robert revealed his drug addiction to Sallie only after they married, but she chose to uphold her marriage vows and support her husband. Vito Russo recalls his friend Jeff Sevcik’s childlike innocence and his favorite film, The Member of the Wedding. Sevcik, a homosexual, identified with the movie’s protagonist, “Frankie,” who also felt like an outsider. Jeff’s name is now on the quilt, along with David Mandell, Jr., a spirited boy with hemophilia who died at an early age after contracting the disease through a blood transfusion. Navy Cdr. Tracy Torrey, who was once married to a woman with whom he had a family, describes his subsequent romantic relationship with David C. Campbell, who also died of AIDS. In 1981, the disease was understood to be a virus and deemed a “rare cancer” that suppresses the immune system. Bobbi Campbell, a homosexual nurse with the sixteenth known case of AIDS in San Francisco, California, became an activist for the disease and called himself “the AIDS poster boy,” before losing his life to it. By the end of 1981, 355 Americans had died from AIDS. One year later, the death toll jumped to 1,285. Sara Lewinstein, a lesbian, recalls joining the board of the Gay Games, a sporting event for the homosexual community modeled after the Olympics and founded by Tom Waddell. After becoming close friends, Sara asked Tom if he would be interested in having a child with her. Tom responded enthusiastically, and they conceived a daughter, Jessica. David Mandell, Jr.’s mother, Suzi, remembers the pain her hemophiliac son suffered and the late-night blood infusions his condition required. She and her husband, David, tried to let their child live as normally as possible, even though minor scrapes and bruises posed a much larger threat to him than to a healthy child. Suzie Perryman recounts her husband Robert’s struggle with drug addiction but says the birth of their daughter prompted him to become drug-free. In 1983, a television news reporter announced that almost 600 people had died from AIDS, out of 1,500 known cases. James Curran, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said in a television interview that the outbreak was worse than Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease combined, but not enough was being done about it. In a different interview, writer Larry Kramer claimed that AIDS research could shed light on the nature of cancer, but argued that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was ignoring the problem because the disease primarily afflicted homosexuals. Activist Roger Lyon advocated for government support at a Washington, D.C., hearing, insisting that AIDS was a health issue, not a “gay issue.” Meanwhile, the number of AIDS cases was doubling every six months. Although the U.S. government claimed to have made it a priority, AIDS funding accounted for less than one percent of the national health care budget. By the end of 1983, 3,933 Americans had died from AIDS. Although Vito Russo’s friend, Jeff Sevcik, was fearful about the disease, Vito did not believe he had it until Jeff ended up in the hospital. Jeff was diagnosed with AIDS, and Vito agreed to move to San Francisco to take care of him. Before Tom Waddell was diagnosed, Sara remembers he lost a considerable amount of weight. Similarly, Suzie recalls her husband Robert becoming weak and tired. Tom wrote a letter to his daughter, Jessica, expressing concern that he might have AIDS after noticing some white patches on his tongue. Assistant Secretary for Health Edward Brandt urged the public to remain calm in a televised interview, saying there was no need to panic. However, around the same time, Life magazine featured a cover page that read: “Now No One Is Safe from AIDS.” Three to four years after the first known cases, the press was finally giving the disease attention because it was afflicting heterosexuals. Nevertheless, homosexuals still made up seventy-five percent of AIDS victims. Activists held rallies to demand federal and state funding for AIDS research and care. By 1984, 9,015 Americans had died from AIDS, and the disease had become the leading cause of death for hemophiliacs. Suzi says that her son David suspected he would die from the disease after hearing about tainted blood donations, while Sara recalls the relief Tom felt after her AIDS test came back negative. Vito received false test results after he noticed a dark spot on the back of his knee, and although he believed he was AIDS-free for two days, the doctor called him back to apologize and said he had tested positive. During a comedy special aired on San Francisco’s KRON-TV station, Eddie Murphy made a joke about females contracting AIDS after kissing their gay male friends, and stores in the city’s Castro district boycotted Murphy’s comedy albums and films. Anti-gay violence was fueled by the epidemic, resulting in the death of a young, homosexual man in Bangor, Maine, while hemophiliacs were discriminated against as well. After receiving his AIDS diagnosis, young David participated in an interview in which he argued that AIDS patients should have the right to play and interact with others. His mother, Suzi, recalls the stigma surrounding the disease and a bogus strawberry-scented lotion that was being marketed to parents as a protection against the disease. When Sara told friends and family that Tom had contracted AIDS, she threatened to cut ties with anyone not supportive or who refused to attend his funeral. The death toll continued to climb, reaching 18,195 in 1985, 31,452 in 1986, and 46,053 in 1987. The U.S. was one of the last developed nations to undertake an AIDS awareness campaign, with President Ronald Reagan first publicly mentioning the disease in 1985 and promoting abstinence as a preventive measure. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop announced his opposition to the president’s abstinence message and stressed the need for frank, open discussion in sexual education. Vito recalls his reaction to contracting AIDS was to learn about the disease and become an activist, while Jeff retreated, quit his medications, and adopted a mystical approach to healing. Just before Robert died in the hospital, Sallie regrets that she was not allowed to enter his room because she had a fever. When Tracy Torrey was diagnosed with AIDS, he could not shed any more tears and arranged to be buried next to David. As David Mandell, Jr.’s illness intensified, his parents arranged for his favorite television character, “Alf,” to speak to him via satellite, and organized a joyous Christmas celebration. When Jeff died, Vito was asleep on an airplane, but he heard his friend’s voice speak to him in a dream. After watching her son die, Suzi found out about the AIDS quilt. Although she felt wary about going to a gay and lesbian center, she went with her husband and, as she worked on the quilt, found herself laughing for the first time since her son passed away. The quilt officially began construction in 1987 in a storefront in San Francisco. Tens of thousands of people became involved in the project, including Sara, Tracy, and Susie, who found out she had AIDS after Roger’s death. By 1988, 55,388 Americans had died from AIDS, and 400 new cases were being diagnosed each week. Adm. James Watkins, head of the Presidential AIDS Commission, conceded that the U.S. had not done enough to fight the disease and had acted in a discriminatory manner. By summer 1989, more than 100,000 cases had been reported and over 59,000 had died – a higher death toll than American casualties in the Vietnam War. Outside the U.S. Capitol building, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is laid out in blocks, while mourners read the names of victims. In attendance is Vito, who finds Jeff’s name and comments that his friend would not like the “messy” sequins Vito added, and Suzi Mandell, who looks at the vast quilt and contemplates how many people have lost someone they loved to AIDS. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.