Seder and safe sex. Not the usual combination — but a winning one for Daryl Wein.
Two years ago the 2002 Staples grad — now a filmmaker — celebrated Passover with girlfriend Zoe Lister-Jones’ family. Richard Berkowitz — a lifelong friend of Zoe’s mom — was there. As Richard — now destitute and alone — reminisced about his life as a sex worker-turned-AIDS activist (he pioneered the concept of “safe sex”), Daryl realized he had stumbled on an important, and untold, story.
After reading Richard’s long-forgotten book, Stayin’ Alive: The Invention of Safe Sex, the NYU grad recalled his days at Staples.
Sex education then, he says, involved “condom-on-banana antics, generally followed by chuckles of discomfort.” He and his friends — who grew up hearing, but not really understanding, the safe-sex mantra — always thought of it as “a government-invented advocacy program.” Researching Richard’s life, and poring through his vast print and video archives, Daryl realized safe sex actually resulted from “the tireless efforts of many fervent activists who paved the way for change.”
Today — with HIV rates again on the rise — Daryl knew this was a movie he had to make.
He spent months interviewing doctors, scientists, activists — and Richard himself. Learning how many men died in the fight — both personal and societal — against AIDS, moved and impelled him.
The resulting documentary — “Sex Positive” — has received superb reviews at dozens of film festivals. A Maryland reviewer wrote:
Sex Positive brings back all the horror, sadness, anger, and confusion of the early days of AIDS…. In the process, it offers a portrait of what it’s like to be a messenger burned for carrying an unpopular message — and offers a wake-up call to anyone who may, thanks to the medications that exist for checking and minimizing the symptoms of AIDS, once again live their sex lives as though immune, invincible, or just unconcerned.
“Angels in America” playwright Tony Kushner called it “a beautiful and important story.”
Richard’s book was recently reissued. “He’s been brought out of hibernation,” Daryl says proudly. “He’s back to actively promoting the safe sex cause all over the world.”
People often ask, Daryl says, how “a 25-year-old straight filmmaker ends up telling the story of a 53-year-old gay AIDS activist-ex S&M hustler.” Daryl calls it his “generational duty” to do so.
After 8 years of Bush-backed abstinence-only sex education, Daryl says, “there couldn’t be a more essential time. I feel I have to challenge complacency by instilling the values of those forgotten heroes, some of whom died in the fight. One is still standing.”
(“Sex Positive” premieres this Friday, June 12, at the Quad Cinema, 34 W. 13th St., NYC. Daryl and Richard will be there opening weekend for Q&As after the film. Advance tickets are available through www.moviefone.com or by calling 212-255-2243. The website is www.sexpositivethemovie.com. To view the trailer, click here.)