National Museum of American History Explores the History of AIDS with Documentary Film Screening, Special Displays

July 24, 2012
News Release

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is hosting the AIDS 2012 Film Festival July 25 and 28. The museum has set up two special displays, one showing several panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt and the other showing historical objects and archival materials documenting 30 years of HIV and AIDS, coinciding with the 2012 International AIDS Conference.

The AIDS 2012 Film Festival

The AIDS 2012 Film Festival features four documentaries focusing on the impact of HIV and AIDS and the experiences of those affected by the epidemic. The festival kicks off July 25 at 6 p.m. with a screening of The Other City: AIDS in D.C. (2010, 90 min.), a film by Susan Koch with an introduction by business woman and philanthropist Sheila Johnson, who produced the documentary. Screenings of three films follow July 28 beginning at Noon: We Were Here: The AIDS Years in San Francisco (2011, 90 min.), directed by David Weissman; No Regrets (1992, 81 min.), by Marlon T. Riggs; and Summer in My Veins (1999, 40 min.), an autobiographical film by Nish Saran. Admission is free, but seating is on a first-come, first-served basis for the screenings in the museum’s Warner Bros. Theater near the Constitution Avenue entrance on the first floor.

The 2012 AIDS Film Festival was made possible through additional support by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Smithsonian Latino Center. For more information about the screenings: visit


The museum is participating in “Quilt in the Capital” and is showing 24 panels in three blocks from the AIDS Memorial Quilt of the Names Project Foundation. Created in 1987, the AIDS Memorial Quilt consists of more than 48,000 panels representing the lives of 94,000 people; it is on display at more than 50 sites around D.C. in conjunction with the International AIDS Conference. The quilt panels will be on view through July 28 in the third-floor Hall of Musical Instruments.

Originally displayed in 2011 when the museum marked the 30th anniversary of the emergence of the HIV and AIDS epidemic and now remounted, “Archiving the History of an Epidemic: HIV and AIDS, 1985-2009,” at the museum’s Archives Center shows how individuals and society were affected by the epidemic through a selection of materials, including posters for the 1993 movie Philadelphia with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington and the 1989 film Longtime Companion; brochures, photographs and other popular culture materials; and quotes from oral histories of people affected by the epidemic.

Recent Acquisitions

The museum’s Archives Center has acquired several collections over the last several months as part of its ongoing efforts to document lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history in general and the HIV and AIDS epidemic specifically.

“These materials will help the museum to correlate national and federal efforts with those of locally based organizations,” said Marc Pachter, acting Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture. “And together these objects and archival records will document personal stories and the political debates of critical public health and civil rights issues.” Archivists collected records and research material from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a lobbying and legal assistance organization for LGBT servicepersons. Measuring approximately 7.5 cubic feet, the collection reflects SLDN’s efforts in the overturning of the U.S. Department of Defense’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

The Archives Center also received a donation of paper records from Helping People with AIDS and AIDS Care of Rochester, N. Y., organizations committed to providing help and support locally to those with HIV and AIDS. Measuring approximately two cubic feet, the collection includes meeting minutes, membership and financial documents, and other records, reflecting a unique facet of the HIV and AIDS crisis on a local, grassroots level.

The World AIDS Institute recently contributed approximately one-half cubic foot of archival materials, including video, trading cards, periodicals and educational materials.

Previously, the museum mounted related displays marking the 25th and 40th anniversaries of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, generally associated with the beginnings of the gay rights movement in the U.S., and the 10th anniversary of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The museum’s collections of some 3 million objects include a selection of gay civil rights activist Frank Kameny’s protest signs.

The National Museum of American History preserves American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Visitor information is available at or by calling (202) 633-1000.

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