Forget Me Not
BY Benjamin Ryan
October 29 2009 12:00 AM ET
A hidden sanctuary lies at the eastern end of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, where 71/2 acres of meandering paths and sloping hills lead to a secluded meadow. Surrounded by pine, redwood, Monterey cypress, and maple trees, this bucolic plot holds an almost mythic, otherworldly power in the minds and hearts of the people who love and care for the space. Twenty years ago it was a largely forgotten mass of dilapidated dirt and brush, known as the deLaveaga Dell, that the city could not afford to maintain. Then a group of volunteers, looking for a place to channel their grief over the AIDS crisis that was so devastating their community, raised private funds, rolled up their sleeves, and turned the land into a memorial to those lost to the disease. With Rep. Nancy Pelosi as its champion in Congress, the National AIDS Memorial Grove, as it is now known, was recognized as a national memorial in 1996, one of only two in California.
WATCH THE TRAILER TO FORGET ME NOT:
In an upcoming documentary about the National AIDS Memorial Grove, Pelosi reflects on how from the passion and commitment of these trailblazers "there emerged this magnificent grove. And then we had this work of nature that really resulted from the grief and sadness of many, converted into a beautiful memorial of remembrance and renewal."
Directed by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Andy Abrahams Wilson, Forget Me Not hopes to bring the national attention that is due to a memorial of the AIDS Grove's stature. Wilson's film, which is nearing completion as he seeks additional funding, will trace the memorial's nascent years to its present, chronicling the stories of those whose lives cross paths in the park: friends, family, and loved ones of those who have died; people infected and affected alike by HIV.
Wilson, who was himself unaware of the AIDS Grove before the memorial's organizers approached him about creating the film, is enthralled by a place he said provides a poignant, Buddhist-like reflection on life, loss, and ultimate regeneration through nature. The AIDS Grove's upkeep, he points out, largely falls to a group of volunteers who get their hands dirty and find solace through tending the earth and ultimately watching beautiful things grow. Their personal involvement with the space, he says, is unique and sets the site apart from the impassive stone of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Mount Rushmore, or Grant's Tomb.
"When we see that process in nature, we see the death," says Wilson, "and we see the regeneration. It's a healing. It's a coming full circle."
"I've been scarred by AIDS, and I'm a survivor," he continues, telling of having lost many friends and a former lover when living in San Francisco in the early 1990s. "The AIDS Grove is also a place for me."
"The film, while it discusses how to memorialize AIDS-it's also a discussion about memorial in general," he explains. Our current political climate, he adds, begs for a national dialogue about how we cope with death: "I call it a post-AIDS AIDS film. In a time of loss, what do we do with our grief? That's pertinent right now, with the war, with the memorial at Ground Zero. We've gone through this period of crisis. So this is a way of really finding healing."