Behind the scenes: “Love a Positive Life”

We go behind the scenes of ‘Love a Positive Life’ to explore the importance of representation in personal storytelling.

Last year, Gemma Taylor and Benjamin Chesterton from DuckRabbit produced a film - 'Love a Positive Life' - with Daphine, where she shared her experiences of living with HIV, and becoming a young role model.

The film won the prestigious Golden Radiator Award celebrating the best in charity aid films. Here we interview Daphine, Benjamin and Gemma about why representation matters to them.

So, firstly: Daphine, why did you want to tell your story?

Daphine: Because I knew I would help many other young people living with HIV to overcome stigma like I overcame it, and I also wanted to air the work of Link Up.

When I was first diagnosed it all scared me. I’ve really gained courage and strength to tell about my status. You find some people don’t like themselves, they don’t like their positive status. Me, I really love myself, I really love the positiveness in me.

Why this film, and why Daphine?

Gemma: Being a teenager is hard. Being a teenager and living with HIV means navigating not only adolescence, and the usual relationships, self-esteem issues, etc., but also HIV-related stigma and fear.

Through the Alliance’s Link Up work we were aware of many teenagers who have navigated that difficult, personal journey, and we wanted to share their story through getting people to engage with one young person.

Daphine felt she had personally developed during Link Up and wanted to share her story, including discovering her status and losing her mother. We went through everything involved in doing so, and we felt secure in the decision being jointly made.

How much did you think about how Daphine would be portrayed in advance? Were you concerned about stigma towards her for featuring in a film about HIV?

Gemma: Before I’d even met Daphine, I was keen that this film would challenge any negative stereotypes relating to HIV.

I couldn’t be specific about portrayal until we knew who we were working with, as you can’t ‘script’ someone’s life. Everyone has a story to tell, we just had to wait and find out what that was. I was keen for relationships to feature, to show it is possible to live a healthy fulfilled life with HIV, including having happy, healthy sexual relationships.

Benjamin: When you sit and listen to someone and are genuinely open to their story; when their story is not being pushed out of shape in order to be 'on message', then, in my experience, you'll make a film that feels authentic.

Daphine - behind the scenes of 'Love a Positive Life'

Daphine behind the scenes of 'Love a Positive Life', filmed in Uganda.

Benjamin, Gemma: how did you make sure Daphine was involved in how she was represented?

Benjamin: When making a film that includes sensitive issues, the most important thing is to establish trust. It's very hard to do that if you burst in on the scene, waving your camera around.

You must form a proper plan with your client, and where possible visit the potential locations where you'll be shooting. Don’t pick up your camera until you're sure what your story is, how you're going to tell it, and you've made sure that your client is happy with it. That's the process that we followed with Daphine and it worked really well.

Gemma: The principle of a ‘no-camera day’ is built in to the Alliance guidelines on representation. I adopted this principle from conversations with DuckRabbit! So I knew they would be a team who would ‘get’ what we were trying to do.

Daphine’s input was paramount every day. From what to wear, where to film, what exactly she wanted to share, everything. We hoped the finished film would be a lovely surprise in how it all came together - and of course she commented on the film before we went live with it.

Daphine, how important was it that the crew spent time with you first before they filmed anything?

Daphine: Really important. It’s actually one of those moments I don't want to forget! It made them my friends which helped me to get free and close to them and that helped me to be open to them.

And what about when you saw the final film for the first time?

Daphine: I felt I existed and was so excited. I have featured in a few videos before but this made me feel great because I did it as an individual. It opened up my doors to the outside world and helped me get closer to other young people. I enjoyed the experience and feel loved, as well as empowered to continue changing young people's lives for the better.

Take a look at our publication 'Why representation matters' for more insight into the importance of representation in personal storytelling.