Where did AIDS come from? Science has determined that the ancestor virus of HIV is found in chimpanzees. But how did it cross over to humans? Could AIDS have arisen as a result of Western medical intervention in Africa? This provocative documentary examines those questions in depth, and suggests that the notoriously insular scientific community deliberately thwarted efforts to find the answers. The film relies heavily on the testimony of investigative journalist Edward Hooper, whose 1999 book The River posited a link between HIV and a contaminated oral polio vaccine (OPV), which Western doctors fed to roughly a million people in central Africa between 1957 and 1960. Famously smacked down by the scientific establishment at a 2000 London conference on the OPV controversy, Hooper here receives corroboration from lab assistants who participated in the preparation of vaccines cultivated with contaminated chimp tissue. More importantly, doctors who for years denied authorizing the use of chimp cultures in Africa come forward, on and off the record, to reveal the truth. In a just world, this film would compel scientists to re-examine the evidence, but with billions of dollars in vaccine patents at stake and the prospect of devastating class-action lawsuits, the cover-up may continue. Science is, as one of the interviewees observes, "a very cruel culture," in which hypotheses exist only to be demolished by those with the facts -- or the power -- to debunk them. To those affected by AIDS, and denied access to the truth about its origins, that culture has been very cruel indeed.
Peter Chappell was born in Aylesbury, England. During the last 20 years, Chappell has worked in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. He studied at the Universities of Exeter and Bristol, in England, and at the National Film School, in France. Chappell began his career in 1981 with South Africa Belongs to Us. In 1998, he directed Our Friends at the Bank, which won the Silver FIPA, the Prize of the Bibliotheque Nationale, at the Cinéma du Réel Festival, and an award at the Okomedia International Ecological Film Festival of Freiburg. Chappell was also awarded the 2000 Albert Londres Prize for Les Damnées de la Terre (1999).
Catherine Peix was born in Paris. She was a high school biology teacher prior to moving into filmmaking. For the last 20 years, Peix has edited TV dramas, movies, video clips, short films, advertisements, and documentaries. Some of the films and documentaries she edited include Jean-Marie Poiré's Opération Corned Beef (1990) and Les Anges gardiens (1994/1995), Le siege de Venise (1991) by Giorgio Ferrara, Merzak Allouache's La solitude du manager (1998), Jean-Jacque Beineix's Locked in Syndrome (1997), Gaultier Flauder's La foret de cendre (1998), and Sur la terre des dinosaurs (1999).