Produced in 1993 “And the Band Played On” is an American documentary based on the best-selling 1987 book entitled “And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic” by Randy Shilts. The film is directed by Roger Spottiswoode and written by Arnold Schulman and has a cast of well known actors. The docudrama weaves around the discovery of the AIDS epidemic and the political infighting of the scientific community obstructing the early fight with it.
The film takes you back to the days when the undetected disease was considered a mysterious threat but one that no one dared face up to. The fight for the affected many was being fought by but a few. No one wanted to even speak of it. Many still feel the same way about AIDS even today. However, recent years have lent due attention to the malady by donor agencies and philanthropists who have kept the fight up for affected people and to combat its spread.
It is with a sense of gratefulness that one watches the film that had first premiered on September 11, 1993. The prologue of the film takes you back to 1976 when American epidemiologist, Don Francis arrives in a village on the banks of the now famous Ebola River in Zaire, where he discovers several residents and doctors working with them to have died from a mysterious illness later identified as Ebola hemorrhagic fever. This initial exposure to an epidemic becomes a haunting leitmotif when he subsequently becomes involved with HIV and AIDS research at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is only in 1981 that Francis becomes aware of a growing number of deaths from unexplained sources among gay men in Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco that prompts him to begin an in-depth investigation of the possible causes. Working with no money, limited space, and outdated equipment, he interacts with politicians, the medical community and gay activists. But many people resent his involvement because of their personal agendas.
Bill Kraus a gay activist supports him but several others dislike unwanted interference in their lifestyles. However Don Francis pursues his theory that AIDS is caused by a sexually transmitted virus on the model of feline leukemia. His efforts are stonewalled by CDC itself that is not keen on proving the disease to be transmitted through blood as blood banks would become suspect, as eventually they were. Albeit later CDC itself came to compete with French and American scientists squabbling over credits for discovering the virus!
Meanwhile death toll from the virus keeps climbing rapidly. The film closes with footage of a candlelight vigil march in San Francisco, followed by a series of images of persons dead and affected with HIV and those who have since then been involved with HIV education and research. The film takes you back in time to bring out the facts and figures of the history of AIDS. It is inspirational in a sense how few committed souls played a role in understanding and combating AIDS infection.