The Fire Within

The Fire Within


Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

Bob Bowers grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. In 1983 he shared needles, once, and contracted HIV. In the early Nineties he met Shawn and they married soon after. Ten years on they are still together, Bob now in his 17th year of living with Aids and Shawn still HIV negative.

Leane Whitney's film succeeds in getting close to its subjects, who discuss their life together and feelings for one another with remarkable candour in a series of video diary type segments.

The film is less successful, however, in other respects. Whitney tries to use the two major events in the couple's life at the time of filming - his switch to a new cocktail of drugs and her participation in the gruelling seven day California Aids ride - as a structuring narrative, but sequences her material confusingly. Is Bob responding well to his medication, having side effects, switching to a different regime, or stopping altogether? Is Shawn talking about the Aids ride before, during or after? It's hard to tell.

Also, she opts to overlay much of the documentary with uptempo, uplifting dance music, presumably as a device to convey the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Unfortunately this also has a tendency to cheapen the film, making it feel like a positive-thinking, consciousness-raising AIDS awareness piece from 15 years ago. When Bob is talking openly and honestly about how he slept with a gun the previous night, unsure of whether he could go on, you've something that's emotional and powerful enough not to need mood music cues.

What impact The Fire Within has comes from Bob and Shawn, compelled by circumstances to become extraordinary individuals, not from the filmmaker's interventions.

Reviewed on: 13 Aug 2002
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Documentary on the lives of a Californian couple living with the spectre of Aids.

Director: Leanne Whitney

Starring: Bob Bowers, Shawn Bowers

Year: 2002

Runtime: 62 minutes

Country: US


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