Jason Wilder Evans is something of a modern-day Renaissance man. In addition to working as an HIV educator full-time, the former Peace Corps volunteer is a prolific songwriter, musician, actor, writer, and filmmaker. And earlier this year the 31-year-old drew on many of these skills -- as well as his passion for HIV outreach -- to create and produce HIV: NYC, a documentary in which New Yorkers speak to the virus in their bodies through poetry and prose. The resulting video is both poignant and powerful'and hopefully coming soon to a film festival near you.
How did HIV: NYC come about?
I work as an educator at the Institute for Family Health in New York City, where I facilitate a group for HIV-positive clients. The idea came up to offer the group members exercises in writing poetry about their infections as a way to express themselves. Plans for the documentary sprang up a few weeks later when we saw how powerful the resulting poems were.
Did you expect the pieces to be as captivating as they are?
I really didn't know what to expect, but I ended up being very impressed. The poems just blew me away. Some of the issues were very, very deep. Some of the things that came out'well, there was some anger. But that was part of the plan -- to get that anger out so that people could find a way to deal with it.
Were you surprised that some also acknowledged HIV as a catalyst for positive change?
I'm glad it comes across that way. We hear so much stuff about how bad HIV is, how HIV kills. To actually hear HIV-positive people say that they are in a better place today -- and part of that is a result of examining their lives and making positive changes after they were diagnosed -- is a perspective we don't get very often.
What do you hope viewers will take away from HIV: NYC?
Hopefully, they'll be inspired to say, 'I'm not going to give up. I'm going to be more engaged in my care. I'm going to advocate for myself and for others living with HIV.' You can't just sit back. You've got to change the situation, and if you can't change the situation, you've got to change yourself.
What's next for the documentary?
We've sent it to some film festivals, and I'm working with TV networks like MTV and Logo about possibly airing it as part of their World AIDS Day programming. I'm also hoping to expand the project to a documentary for each of the 50 states, a larger HIV: USA piece.