3 Needles' Thom Fitzgerald:

Speaking the language of a universal threat

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<i>3 Needles</i>' Thom Fitzgerald:

"I started the ?lm with the question: ‘Why, when all of mankind has a common enemy, has it not brought us together, but been divisive, causing ?nger-pointing and rage?’” wonders writer/director Thom Fitzgerald. “Growing up in the United States, I always understood that the face of AIDS was a 30-year-old gay man,” Fitzgerald continues. “But I think we’ve all come to understand that’s not true.”

3 Needles—Fitzgerald’s harrowing, three-pronged narrative about the global AIDS pandemic—is a telling exploration of how varied cultures comprehend disease, the human body and God. The ?lm is as much about faith, ritual and sacri?ce as it is about modern medicine. “As I made the ?lm, it became clear to me that the face of AIDS is invisible. A person’s culture and religion and history determines that face,” Fitzgerald explains. “The stories are set in China, South Africa and Canada. I really focused on ?nding places where the experience of AIDS [would be] very different.”

Depending on the setting, Fitzgerald’s original dialogue was translated into one of eight different languages, while a diverse ensemble cast (Fitzgerald placed local tribespeople and regional actors alongside Lucy Liu, Chloë Sevigny, Stockard Channing, Shawn Ashmore and Sandra Oh) re?ects the ?lm’s global mission. “In northern Thailand, I would shout a direction, and the ?rst assistant director would repeat it in Thai for his crew, and Lucy Liu would shout it in Mandarin for the principle cast, and then an interpreter would hear it in Chinese, and shout it out in Akha, which is the language of the hill-tribe people. And then someone else would shout it out in Karen [another tribal language].” Fitzgerald pauses. “Just to say ‘action.’”

Regardless, the cultural roadblocks yielded big ?lmmaking lessons for Fitzgerald. “I learned patience. Even if the translation was correct, there was no reason to expect it would be understood. In Africa, many of the actors had never seen a movie. They didn’t understand what it was; they didn’t understand the end result. To be running a movie set across from tribal people who have a completely innocent perspective on it—?lmmakers certainly do feel ludicrous,” Fitzgerald laughs. “The whole notion of pretending to do all this stuff over and over again, and what this little box called a camera is doing, and the lengths that we go to capture two seconds. When they can tell a great story in 20 minutes with no camera. I learned that cinema is a language; media is a language. And it’s a powerful one.”

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