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'Beats Per Minute' Director Hopes Film Serves as HIV/AIDS 'Wake-Up Call'

by Lucas Thompson and John Paul Brammer /
Nahuel Perez Biscayart as "Sean" in "Beats Per Minute"The Orchard

French film "Beats Per Minute" transports audiences to France in the early '90s, a time when HIV/AIDS was widely misunderstood and governments around the world were hesitant to address the epidemic. The drama follows young activists — members of the Paris chapter of AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) — as they band together to fight the growing health crisis.

"I did this film out of my memories," Robin Campillo, the film's director, told NBC News. Campillo said he was inspired to create the film due to his own experience with ACT UP, which was founded in 1987 in New York City to fight HIV/AIDS.

"I think it is very intense as a memory, as a souvenir of those times," Campillo said of the film. "I didn't go too much through documents to create the fiction and write the script. I just put all these memories together and tried to create perspective and figure out what was the meaning of it all."

The film stars actors Nahuel Perez Biscayart (Sean) and Arnaud Valois (Nathan), who portray two young activists swept up in the fight.

 Arnaud Vanois as "Nathan" in "Beats Per Minute." The Orchard

“It’s really a film about the political struggle before the Internet. Because before confronting the politicians and before confronting the laboratories, we had to confront each other in very large debate, and we had to meet in the flesh in order to do that,” Campillo explained. "It’s very interesting to see the difference today, where people are really radical on Facebook, and they are not so much to each other."

Biscayart echoed Campillo's analysis. "Nowadays, everyone is isolated and hiding behind screens, so I think it is always good to remind people that we can get together and do stuff [in] reality together."

While treatment has vastly improved and stigma has teetered since the early '90s, when the film takes place, Campillo said there is still more to be done on the HIV/AIDS front.

“We have to urge our politicians to go to another phase of the prevention," Campillo said, noting that France does not have big social campaigns similar to the “Know Your Status” campaign that recently ran in the U.S.

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He also urged world leaders to look at HIV/AIDS as a global issue.

“I think we have to fight to convince our politicians to struggle with the [pharmaceutical companies] to lower the prices of the drugs," he said. "And not just for our own countries but for Eastern Europe, for Asia and for Africa, but that is a lot of work, and I do not see the political will.”

Campillo said we have the power to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic and hopes his film serves as a "wake-up call" for lawmakers to prioritize the issue.

"Beats Per Minute" is now in select theaters and is the French submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year.

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