Aids in Asia

A woman waits by her husbands side in the AIDS and TB ward of The Russian Hospital, Phnom Penh, Cambodia December 8, 2004. Although he is suffering from carcinoma after 41 years of smoking, he is kept in the AIDS and TB ward which is where most impoverished patients end up. (Zoriah / December 7, 2004)

The documentary "Fire in the Blood" details how, from 1996 to 2003, Western pharmaceutical companies acted along with U.S. and European governments to, in effect, keep low-cost, generic antiretroviral drugs out of the reach of poor, HIV/AIDS-afflicted citizens of Africa and elsewhere (resulting in, the film asserts, more than 10 million premature deaths). Unfortunately, Dylan Mohan Gray's slow and steady exposé never quite manages the propulsive gut punch its incendiary subject demands.

Writer-producer-director Gray combines troublesome facts about the World Trade Organization and the pharmaceutical industry with stirring imagery of impoverished AIDS victims with interviews with an eloquent array of activists, scientists and advocates from the affordable drug movement. Observers and chroniclers such as former President Bill Clinton, Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, South African civil rights leader Desmond Tutu and New York Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. add much to the discussion.

In addition, the movie intriguingly recalls how, in 2003, then-President George W. Bush boldly pledged $15 billion to assist the international HIV/AIDS epidemic. Corporate interests, however, sought to weaken his plan until plummeting prices for generic AIDS medication gave the administration no choice but to commit to buying these cheaper drugs — and helping exponentially more people — in lieu of the far more expensive branded medications.

Still, despite its raft of vital if not always surprising information, "Fire" can feel a bit one-sided and manipulative — and, frankly, somewhat dry — as it efficiently makes its case against the commercialization of medicine, drug patent monopolies and more. Actor William Hurt provides smooth narration.


"Fire in the Blood"

MPAA Rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.