Mary Lynch: We are not defined by how far we live

Image copyright Mary Lynch Image caption The movie took place in the infected regions of Aids-ravaged Africa At the beginning of the documentary that became the award-winning Giselle, there’s a scene from a cell…

Mary Lynch: We are not defined by how far we live

Image copyright Mary Lynch Image caption The movie took place in the infected regions of Aids-ravaged Africa

At the beginning of the documentary that became the award-winning Giselle, there’s a scene from a cell phone interview with a woman on the move in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen.

Giselle takes the phone, a long-haul journey to a tight spot on her route. She gestures at a potential kill zone, telling the interviewee that this journey will be risky.

At the start of the film it would have been easy to discuss destination and destination; America and Africa or America and South America. Or Giselle and “the heart of Africa”. But this is a film about something more than destinations and destinations.

For Giselle, it’s a way of looking at the disease that is already there and the lives that are unfolding right before your eyes.

This is “really far-flung, very different areas of the world” explains the film’s director and producer Mary Lynch, who died of Aids in 1990.

Lynch lost her mother and uncle to Aids just as the treatments became more effective, causing a surge in new cases and pushing up the global death toll.

The project began back in the 1980s, when her production team was in one of those very remote areas of Africa, interviewing infected patients or those in the immediate grip of the disease. One of those patients wanted to interview Lynch herself. So Lynch began researching as if she were seeking for a film script or an idea of what the film might look like, in the hopes that maybe it could help on her journey from diagnosis to death.

Lynch declined to show the film to those who are living with Aids, but last year she let a handful of friends see it. “I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of showing it to a very small circle of people who are very close to me,” she told the BBC during a visit to London to promote the film. “They know me to be very private, and yet I’m putting it before my audience, especially if they are so close to me. I don’t know how I would feel.”

A few days before she died, Lynch wrote a farewell letter to those who had seen the film. It talks about how it’s not a pretty picture, but the film provides a powerful counterbalance to that and offers hope, she said. “You have to know what you have and give yourself permission to do that, for the person you are, even though it’s not easy. Then you have to commit to make the next change because the next change will be really quite profound for you.”

Watch the trailer for Giselle here

Lynch is one of the few people in the world who has overcome Aids. But she wasn’t the first to experience it. She was a nurse, in Kenya in the late 1980s, an innocent, taking Aids tests for the first time and getting the dreaded news that she had contracted HIV. She tells her daughter that if she would have got her life in order, she could have escaped it.

Lynch continued to live in Kenya until the 1980s, travelling, taking care of her mother, having her son and working to raise awareness about Aids. She left Kenya in 1992 and went to the United States, where she made Giselle.

Lynch died on 21 May 1990. She is now the subject of a documentary about her life, which opened at the National Theatre in London last Friday, and with whom she collaborated on Giselle.

Despite the success of the film, Giselle wasn’t an easy project to make. There were issues with health law and international copyright law and, Lynch said, “there’s no conspiracy against women, the film is not a political conspiracy”.

More than anything, Lynch says the film is about “being empathetic to what you are looking at” in a film, even if it’s going to cause you a lot of distress.

She tells audiences that they should see the film to learn something about what they will be dealing with when they reach their destination of life.

“The hardest thing is letting go of the feelings and thoughts that your body is aware that you have,” she says. “Letting go of your grief and fear and caution, allowing it to come through the fog and say, ‘What are you doing about it? What can you do about it? Can you figure out what is the path that you’re going to take through the final stages of your life and what are you going to do that no one else can do? Because everything is happening at once, and you have no control. You have no choice.'”

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