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QMUL researcher produces feature film about HIV/AIDS, starring women from Pwani Tanzania

A global health researcher based at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has produced a feature length drama about living with HIV/AIDS in East Africa. PILI is based on the stories of real women from rural Tanzania. It was produced on location by Dr Sophie Harman from QMUL’s School of Politics and International Relations.

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Credit: Craig Dean Devine
Credit: Craig Dean Devine

Due for release in early 2017 the film follows the lead character ‘Pili’ over four days as she grapples with an opportunity to change her life. Pili works the fields for less than $1 a day to feed her two children and struggles to manage and conceal her HIV positive status. When she is offered the chance to rent a sought-after market stall, Pili is desperate to have it.  But with no time to get the deposit together, she is forced to make increasingly difficult decisions with ever deepening consequences. How much will she risk to change her life?

According to Dr Harman PILI is “a one of a kind feature”. More than 65 per cent of the cast are HIV positive and the story was devised from interviews with 85 women from the Pwani region of Tanzania. The lives of the film’s main characters are based on the day-to-day experiences of the women who took part. Many of the women live on less than $2 a day.

Dr Harman recently returned to Tanzania to show the finished product to the women who took part in the film.

“Leaving Miono [Tanzania] I felt the enormity of what we had created. The women in the film seemed pleased with the final product, but at the end of the day being in the film does not help them with their everyday lives. It doesn’t pay for food, or address their HIV status, or pay for their children (and their own) education-related expenses. It is an expression of their lives, their stories - nothing more - but it is such an honour to have been faithful to their experiences,” said Dr Harman.

PILI will premiere in 2017 and all money raised from the project will go to the women and communities who took part. The project is funded by an AXA Insurance Outlook Grant and a Queen Mary University of London Innovation Fund award. You can follow the film’s progress on Facebook, Twitter, and Dr Harman’s blog.

Find out more about studying international relations at QMUL.

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