Film: The search for the first ever person believed to be cured of HIV
When I met television creative Edgar Tang, back in 2011 during the PromaxBDA Asia regional conference, I didn’t know of Timothy Ray Brown, the American patient who became the first person in the world to be cured of HIV — or that Tang himself was already passionately knee-deep in documenting his journey to meet the survivor known as The Berlin Patient.
It was to be the first documentary feature for this erstwhile television producer and cinematographer. “I don’t know how or what will happen, but I’m going to carry on,” he said back then.
Together with co-director Dzul Sungit, Tang had already been in Berlin in search of Brown’s doctor Gero Hutter, a German hematologist who wiped out Brown’s immune system with radiation and chemotherapy, and then rebuilt it with stem cell blood transplant from a donor with genetic immunity to HIV. That ground-breaking approach is believed to have kept Brown HIV-negative since 2007.
But the spontaneous pair had yet to meet the “mystical being” (as Tang calls Brown). And so it was off to Amsterdam, where Brown was scheduled to speak at an AIDS activist event — even if there was no guarantee of meeting the man.
Two years on and I’m at the charity screening of I Hugged A Berlin Patient.
The 38-year-old Tang, who himself had been diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma back in June 2007 and is now in remission, has come a long way indeed.
Currently a senior producer at HBO Asia, Tang was candid about why he made a film about an HIV survivor, instead of, say, his own battle with cancer, among other things.
Said Tang: “You never know when life throws you a curveball. Let’s celebrate resilience and hope and anti-discrimination and judgment.”
Q: What were the challenges you faced?