directed by Laurie Lynd
Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 25-May 5, 2019 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details.
by Angelo Muredda "Everyone was praying it was going to be something we could give up," editor and interviewee Michael Denneny says in a sobering moment in Laurie Lynd's Killing Patient Zero, which offers a moving if somewhat scattershot account of the collision between sexual liberation, panic, and state indifference in the early days of the AIDS crisis while fleshing out the life of so-called "patient zero," Gaétan Dugas. Based on Richard McKay's book on Dugas, a French-Canadian flight attendant remembered here for his charisma and frankness about his sexuality at a time when homosexuality was pathologized as an illness in North America, Lynd's film is most effective as a reparative intervention into its subject's cruel afterlife as the media's favoured scapegoat in false summaries of the early transmission of HIV. Yet the documentary's emotional impact is dulled by Lynd's vestigial gestures to the source text (from which McKay awkwardly reads via a teleprompter), his overly familiar style (which cribs its score from The Social Network and its interview setup from Errol Morris), and his curious compulsion to frequently sideline Dugas's story to make way for talking-head interviews with a who's who of queer celebrities, such as Fran Lebowitz and B. Ruby Rich.