After 82, Gay Essential Talks To Ben Lord and Steve Keeble

After 82 is a new feature length documentary directed by long-term partners Ben Lord and Steve Keeble about what really happened in the UK during the early years of the AIDS pandemic. The film took almost six years to make and started as a short film. “People outside started to hear about our documentary short and started to come forward, wanting to speak about their experiences of living with HIV,” recalls Lord. “Word spread around like wildfire and all of a sudden we had all these people wanting to talk to us. It was amazing.”

After 82

What makes their documentary unique, in fact, are the untold personal stories from many of the first generation of HIV survivors who witnessed the tragedy of those years and who will never forget this important time in history. Keeble initially did not think that anyone would really want to talk and relive those times, but it was while working on it that he realised the time for making a documentary on this topic was right. “During the pandemic,” he says, “everyone was just doing what they could. When the medications came, everybody had a chance to reflect on what had happened, and there was that sufficient gap that allowed people to say, ‘Okay, now I’m ready to talk.'”

The documentary comes at a time when great advances have been made; we’ve never been closer to eliminating the HIV virus, but Keeble observes that “for some reason, we don’t seem to want to remember these guys who were initially like guinea pigs; it just seems that they’ve been forgotten. And for me, aside from the professional reason that this had never been done before, it was one of the reasons why [After 82] had to be made. How can you progress when you won’t remember what happened originally?”

Keeble also says that one of the reasons why he made the film was that for every single day, from 1996, he worked for a short while at the London Lighthouse, the independent AIDS hospice. “It was so surreal, because every day, there would be candles lit up for those who’d died; it was almost like we accepted it. And some of the guys were younger than me, and I was 31 at the time!”

“We hear a lot about what happened with HIV and AIDS in America,” reflects Lord, “But we never hear anything about what happened in the UK. I think that’s because people here like to move forward, they like to brush things under the carpet. We don’t talk about it, we don’t acknowledge it. That’s why I think Steve and I were fortunate that people came to us; they trusted us with their stories, and it became very much a responsibility. Despite the hard times making the documentary, we never said we were going to give up because we owed it to the people in the documentary who shared their stories with us. But also, those people told us about their lovers, their friends, their partners, their relatives who died of AIDS related illness, and so we owed it to them as well.”

Some of the people featured in After 82 shared their stories with the public for the first time. For the directors, it was very important to take time to build up trust and even a friendship with them before interviewing them on camera. Lord points out that there’s a tendency in documentary filmmaking to keep people at arm’s length: “We never did that with these people. We showed our vulnerabilities as well, we shared in their pain and what they went through. That’s why they were comfortable talking to us being vulnerable and being human.”

Actor Jonathan Blake is prominently featured in the documentary. Blake was one of the first people to have been diagnosed with HIV in the UK and has been living with the virus for over thirty years. He was also portrayed in Matthew Warchus’ 2014 film Pride by actor Dominic West, who narrates After 82. “If you’re watching something which is very deep and very heavy, you need someone who can kind of guide you through the whole thing,” Keeble explains. “Jonathan Blake is a real character; he talks, and he smiles through it. That’s the way he is dealing with it. He’s the kind of person that you think, ‘okay, this guy’s survived it, so whatever happens, he’s still here.’ He’s kind of like your guide and takes you through the film.”

Another narrative prominently featured in After 82 is that of the Terrence Higgins Trust, the first charity in the UK to be set up in response to HIV and AIDS. The charity was established in 1982 and named after one of the first people in the country to have died from the AIDS virus. His partner, Dr. Rupert Whitaker, is also interviewed in the film, along with such other notable figures as Caroline Bradbeer, Lord Norman Foster, Peter Tatchell, and more.

The wealth of material Keeble and Lord had for the documentary, whether it was that which they had shot themselves or archive footage and photographs from the time, impacted the post-production process. Whilst editing the film, Keeble recalls, “I think I had about three hours sleep at night. We literally had hours and hours of footage, and it was very difficult to edit because everybody told a story. But what we’re going to do at some stage is, we’re looking at bringing out a university pack with all the interviews of everybody and all the questions that we asked them.”

After 82 is already attracting some interest outside the UK, including the US, where according to Keeble, “they’ve always wanted to know what was happening [in the UK], because although you knew, you weren’t quite sure.” However, their documentary is very much about making sure that the stories of the early years of the AIDS pandemic are not forgotten. “A lot of younger people, especially in our community, are not aware of the AIDS pandemic. We owe these people and future generations within the LGBT community and outside to remember what happened. It’s like our holocaust. You can’t forget, you can’t become complacent.”

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All pictures reproduced courtesy of Ben Lord and Steve Keeble

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Matt Micucci

Matt Micucci

Filmmaker
Matt is a cinephile with a keen interest in the proliferation of film culture. He is a writer, programmer, filmmaker, and long-time contributor to FRED Film Radio and JAZZIZ Magazine. Has interviewed hundreds of people at international film festivals. Collaborated with Mark Cousins on a short inspired by Pasolini. Holds a BA in filmmaking and is currently pursuing an MA in Film Theory and Practice in Galway, Ireland, where he lives.
Matt Micucci
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