Saturday, March 27, 2010


The fifth film in Melbourne Queer Film Festival that I attended was the docudrama Pedro. In the introductory spiel before the movie, the organiser apologised for not supplying tissues. Fair call, it was a real weepie.

The Festival blurb for the film said:
In 1994, Bunim/Murray Productions made the groundbreaking decision to cast openly gay, HIV-positive Cuban-American Pedro Zamora as part of MTV's The Real World: San Francisco, one of the first reality TV shows in the US. Zamora's time in the Real World house on Lombard Street brought a face to the AIDS crisis; and US President Bill Clinton credited Zamora with personalising and humanising those with the virus. For millions of people, he was the only person they knew living with HIV.
Pedro celebrates the extraordinary life of Zamora, a young man who, when he found out he was HIV positive at 17, made the courageous decision to dedicate the rest of his life to speaking out about his condition in an attempt to raise awareness about the disease in his community, even testifying before the US Congress to argue for more explicit HIV/AIDS educational programmes aimed at youth of colour, before auditioning for The Real World in 1993. His appearance on The Real World brought his story and his message to MTV's youthful audience and beyond, and when Zamora's health began to deteriorate in late 1994 (after he left the show), it became front page news nationwide, and his death at age 22 provoked a worldwide outpouring of grief. Pedro has Hollywood royalty at its heart with Academy Award winning writer Dustin Lance Black (Milk) at the helm, as well as Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (Quinceanera, The Fluffer, Grief) in producer roles.
“Pedro offers an intriguing look at this accidental celebrity and his brief but world-changing turn in the spotlight, and hits all the right emotional notes". - Variety
So, you know there is no happy ending here.

The film stars with a statement to the camera by Bill Clinton and finishes and ends with footage of Pedro Zamora, the final footage before the "what happened to them" bits being his on-screem marriage to fellow AIDS activist Sean Sasser, something we have already seen dramatised in the film. Unusually, the actual Pedro Zamora was more handsome than the actor who plays him: not something that happens often with Hollywood's products.

The film interweaves the last few weeks of Pedro's life with his experience in the TV house, his growing up and his diagnosis as HIV positive. The film conveys Cuban refugee experience powerfully, particularly in the scene when the four older siblings are blocked from leaving Cuba at the last moment and the family has to decide, on the spot, whether to separate. The movement between stages in Pedro's life is managed smoothly, the acting is fine and the characters are brought alive very well. The actor who plays Pedro gives a fine performance, holding your attention even when he is largely incapacitated by illness without turning him into some plaster saint: the actors playing his sister Mily and his best friend in the house Judd do, if anything, even better. Towards the end of the film, there was complete silence in the cinema with, I suspect, very few dry eyes. A fine dramatisation of a tragically shortened, yet extraordinary, life.

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