Colombian artist Juan de la Mar’s life completely changed on May 17, 2017, the day he received his HIV diagnosis.
“I couldn’t process anything. I just thought I was going to die. I felt like a grey cloud hung over my head,” de la Mar told the outlet Latino Rebels.
The filmmaker channeled those early fears into a short autobiographical film entitled De Gris A POSITHIVO (From Gray to POSITHIVE) to address the ongoing stigma and silence surrounding HIV.
With the proper treatment and care, people with HIV can live a normal lifespan. Unfortunately, de la Mar initially received some reckless advice. His Bogota doctor told him he needed to moisturize because “people like you get their skin all dry and gray.”
“That comment destroyed me. I sat all afternoon on a park bench to cry,” de la Mar added. “Then I started looking at myself in the mirror all the time. I was afraid that I was actually going to turn gray, that it would show, that everyone would notice just by looking at me.”
After getting on antiretroviral therapy (ART), de la Mar became undetectable (meaning the amount of virus in the blood is too little to be detected by tests), but still worried he would never find love or be comfortable having sex again.
According to de la Mar, the concept of undetectable = untransmittable, or U=U, is not widely explained in Colombia “because they think people would get too relaxed and would care less about their health.” U=U means that people who maintain an undetectable viral load cannot sexually transmit the virus to others.
He began doing research outside of Colombia and came across sex-positive literature. Things really changed after making contact with activists advocating for the equality of people living with HIV. His outlook on life suddenly shifted.
“The grey cloud started to vanish,” de la Mar said.
After matriculating into art school, he became inspired to use his visual skills to document his HIV journey from despair to rebirth.
De Gris A POSITHIVO‘s trailer depicts de la Mar’s experience by showing euphoric video of him hang gliding through the air juxtaposed with disturbing black and white images of his face wrapped in plastic on a crowded city street.
“This is an act of healing to return to LHIVe and show the strength that love has when you live an experience synonymous with a death sentence,” reads a synopsis of the film.
De Gris A POSITHIVO (From Gray to POSITHIVE) has been getting rave reviews having been screened in more than 35 festivals and two HIV conferences.
On top of the professional success, de la Mar has achieved some major personal life wins as well.
Since completing the film, de la Mar has married his partner, relocated to New York City, and become an advocate for the rights of Latinos and immigrants living with HIV.
De Gris A POSITHIVO is available to rent and own on Vimeo. Watch the trailer below: