Narrative Medicine Recognizes the Film “Philadelphia,” 20 Years Later

November 1, 2013

No matter how many news reports covered the HIV/AIDS epidemic through the late 1980s and early 1990s, for many Americans without a personal connection to the disease, its devastating effects did not hit home. The 1993 release of the film “Philadelphia” changed that for a broad swath of America, said Rita Charon, MD, PhD, executive director of the Program in Narrative Medicine. “Philadelphia” was one of the first mainstream movies to address HIV/AIDS, homophobia, and discrimination.

“After seeing the film, people said, ‘Oh my God, is that what’s happening?’ Through art and creativity, it changed the national conversation about the disease,” said Dr. Charon. “That’s what narrative medicine is about—understanding illness through storytelling and being moved by it. That is why we wanted to commemorate the film.”

On Tuesday, Nov. 12, CUMC’s Program in Narrative Medicine is hosting events through the evening to mark the film's 20th anniversary. In addition to three screenings of "Philadelphia," the program will feature award-winning poets; an Alvin Ailey solo dance performance; a discussion with Dr. Gerald Friedland and Dr. Michael Gottlieb, physicians and activists at the forefront of the epidemic; and a panel discussion on the making of the film, with director Jonathan Demme, members of the cast, and others on the creative team (see full program below).

Beyond recognizing a film that embodies the ideals of narrative medicine, Dr. Charon says, the program will offer a narrative medicine experience to the broader CUMC community.

“By bringing to the medical center these brilliant poets, filmmakers, and scientists, we are stating publicly and widely that we see connections between creativity and beauty on one side and care of the sick on the other,” said Dr. Charon. “I feel it’s almost a subversive act to bring beauty and creativity into an ordinary Tuesday at the medical center. There you are in Alumni Auditorium, and instead of slides of the biochemical structure of the hemoglobin molecule, you see an Alvin Ailey dancer. Two kinds of beauty, each perfect in its own way.”

"Philadelphia" will be screened in 401 Hammer Health Sciences Center at 10:00 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. on Nov. 12.

"Philadelphia: Narrative and the AIDS Epidemic" Program  

When: Tues., Nov. 12, 2013

Where: Alumni Auditorium, Columbia University Medical Center, 650 W. 168th St. (Ft. Washington Avenue), New York, NY 10032

Tickets: $20 with Columbia University ID; $50 general public.

Buy Tickets Here

All proceeds from the event will benefit African Services Committee. AFC provides health, housing, legal, and social services to more than 10,000 newcomers to this country each year, focusing on HIV prevention, testing, care, and advocacy.

Schedule of Events (subject to change)

1:00 p.m.—Artists, Representation, and Activism 

Nellie Hermann hosts writers Mark Doty and Marie Howe, both of whom explore themes of loss, beauty, care giving, and hope in their poetry and memoirs.

3:00 p.m.—Two Men Talking A performance created and performed by Paul Browde and Murray Nossel.

5:00 p.m.—Activism and Health Care Dr. Ron Bayer hosts a discussion with Dr. Gerald Friedland and Dr. Michael Gottlieb, physicians and activists at the forefront of the epidemic.

7:00 p.m.—A Song for You Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presents a solo piece choreographed by Alvin Ailey for the Donny Hathaway version of the classic song.

7:30 p.m.—The Making of "Philadelphia"  Paul Lazar hosts a panel discussion featuring the creative team behind the film: Jonathan Demme (director), John Bedford Lloyd (cast),Ron Nyswaner (writer), Marc Platt (Sony Studios), Ed Saxon (producer), Anna Deavere Smith (cast), and more.