2SSFA - 'A New Hope' by Chermaine Ong

'A New Hope' is a social documentary chronicling the life and hardship of 30-year-old Pong, a HIV-stricken Thai woman. Also central to the film are her close relations, namely her infected 6-year-old daughter and her boyfriend, a handicapped Casanova who ironically philanders around but yet has been given the clean bill. In Thailand, HIV was the norm more than a decade ago but has been slowly eradicated from the public eye as effective public affairs campaigns managed to stem the spread. The decline in the disease coincides with a rise in social stigma against it, Pong tells her tale in this biography. Chermaine, a Communications Studies graduate in her final-year project, stayed true to her subjects through the use of first-person commentaries that convey the trauma of being a HIV carrier in present-day Thailand. The audience is taken through a journey of shock, denial and eventual acceptance as Pong relates how she dealt with social clich├ęs, her downward spiral into near-suicide as she slit her throat, overdosed on sleeping pills, before being resigned to fate. Most of this documentary was shot in Pong’s native Thai language and it is impressive how Chermaine managed to source for her contacts and conduct the interviews especially given the (plausible) language barrier. The film does away with fanciful editing and all that schnazz, opting instead to remain faithful to the core storyline surrounding Pong. And true to the optimistic title, A New Hope had an equally upbeat conclusion.

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