Author wants more vigilance on AIDS

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First-time director David France’s film, “How to Survive a Plague,” has been nominated for a 2013 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. France, who took a hiatus from his day job as a contributing editor for New York Magazine to complete this film about the AIDS epidemic, is a former Newsweek senior editor and a contributing writer for GQ, the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. 

France is the author of three books, including the New York Times best-seller The Confession, on former New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey, and Our Fathers, an acclaimed investigation of the Catholic Church sexual abuse crisis, which was turned into a multi-Emmy-nominated Showtime movie. Other films adapted from David’s work include “Thanks of a Grateful Nation,” a controversial Showtime miniseries about the first Gulf War, and the Peabody Award-winner “Soldier’s Girl,” about a private’s murder. A graduate of Kalamazoo College, France resides in New York City and New Kingston, N.Y.

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ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?

DAVID FRANCE: I’d talk to the president about the new AIDS time-bomb in America. He’s got to know that 18,000 people die of AIDS every year — still. And 55,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. 

I’m sure he knows that there have been some major advances in the epidemic. Transmissions from mother to child have been nearly eliminated. Rates of infection among women and IV drug users are down dramatically. But, my community — gay and bisexual men — has gone the other way after a long decline. 

There have been double-digit increases among men who have sex with men in the past few years. Once again, HIV is primarily a gay epidemic. The problem is especially severe among gays under 27. Today, the majority of new infections are in this population. This represents a staggering failure of our public education campaigns, and the consequences are dire. In Baltimore, for instance, nearly half of all gay men under 27 years old are infected. 

We need strong national leadership to bring the subject of AIDS back into our national consciousness. We need the prominent intervention of your Surgeon General, your Health secretary, your heads of the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and NIH [National Institutes of Health]. We need a declaration of concern and alarm from you personally, Mr. President. Without this kind of leadership — if we do nothing more than we are doing today — the victories of the last two decades of vigilance and disease control will be totally reversed.

RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?

DF: My boyfriend and I, after 18 years together, would like to be married in the Rose Garden. Would you officiate?

RB: What piece of advice would you give the president as he settles into his second term in office?

DF: Keep your healthcare reform campaign on the front burner, especially in regard to mental health. We must be fostering and encouraging a healthier community.

RB: If you were going to send the president to one of your favorite places in the United States for one day, where would that be? Why?

DF: The Catskill Mountains. These include one of the nation’s oldest forest preserves and sit atop the aquifer that supplies pristine, unfiltered water to 9 million people in the New York City region. But the area is threatened by the frenzy to frack and drill for natural gas. Similar land rushes have spoiled parts of Colorado, Texas and Pennsylvania. Hurry to see the Catskills before it’s too late!

RB: What piece of music would you recommend that the president add to his collection? 

DF: Anything by Joni Mitchell.

RB: Would you ever consider a political career?

DF: I would absolutely consider it — and then, on second thought, I’d stay as far away from elected office as possible. I once wrote a book about New Jersey politics with former Gov. James E. McGreevey. That’s all the politics I need for a lifetime.

Robin Bronk is CEO of The Creative Coalition — the leading national, nonprofit, nonpartisan public advocacy organization of the entertainment industry. Bronk is a frequent speaker on the role of the entertainment industry in public advocacy campaigns and represents The Creative Coalition and its legislative agenda before members of Congress and the White House. She produced the feature film “Poliwood,” airing on Showtime, and edited the recently published book Art & Soul. Bronk pens this weekly column with assistance from Risa Kotek.