When San Francisco Chronicle health reporter Erin Allday was given the go-ahead to write a story about the long term effects of HIV/AIDS, she knew it would be a big one. The newspaper knew it too, which is why they planned resources for Allday and gave her almost a year to write it.
What the paper didn’t plan for was producing its first ever documentary film. Called “Last Men Standing,” the film centers around eight men in San Francisco living with HIV/AIDS. The 66-minute long documentary film premiered in April.
To find the men, Allday contacted agencies in the Bay Area and told them about her assignment. “I ended up interviewing about 50 people,” she said. “I was looking for a diversity of experiences, interesting stories, and a willingness to be very open in sharing their story in print and film.”
When the paper’s videographer Tim Hussin and multimedia photo editor Erin Brethauer began filming video for Allday’s story, they quickly discovered it was more than a typical project.
“We knew we wanted to do a longer video piece,” said Brethauer. “We weren’t really confining ourselves with the time, but as we started piecing things together we realized that it was a feature length film.”
The process took about eight months (four months filming and four months in post production). Being able to spend so much time with the sources “really shows up in the work,” Allday said.
“There is value to this; there is value in allowing your reporters to really develop that comfort level with a topic and the people,” she said. “It gave me the ability to, in my case, write something and in their case produce something that was much richer and was a very complete and honest story.”
To help promote the film, the story was published in print and online about a month before the film premiered at the Castro Theater. The paper worked directly with the theatre and sold out the venue (which holds 1,400 seats) a week before the screening. Tickets went for $20 and were also sold at a discounted price to the Shanti Project and the SF Academy of Friends, two nonprofits working with the HIV/AIDS community. After the film, there was also a Q&A with the eight men featured in the film.
Brethauer said another documentary could be in the works in the future, but for now the paper plans to show “Last Men Standing,” at upcoming film festivals and will later make it available to the public through video on demand.
Visit projects.sfchronicle.com/2016/living-with-aids to learn more about the project.