To Live is Better Than to Die
A TV2 Denmark Production, Cinemax, HBO, BBC
During the early 1990s, impoverished citizens in rural China responded to a critical blood shortage by selling their blood for much-needed cash. Unsanitary collection methods caused many of them to become infected with HIV and to suffer the catastrophic effects of full-blown AIDS. To Live is Better Than to Die examines the depths of China’s growing epidemic by focusing on one family in the village of Wenlou in Henan province. In 2001, filmmaker/director/producer Weijun Chen traveled to Wenlou where he met Ma Shengyi, a poor farmer, his wife Leimei, and their three children. Some ten years earlier, Ma Shengyi and Leimei sold their blood and contracted the HIV virus. They have since passed it on to their two youngest children. With quiet intimacy, To Live is Better Than to Die tells their agonizing personal story over the course of the seasons in a year. Leimei quickly loses her battle against AIDS, leaving Ma Shengyi to stave off HIV without her and provide for his three young children. How this family confronts inevitable death is conveyed in a brutally frank, emotionally stark, and ultimately inspiring manner. By taking an unemotional documentary approach to a wrenching situation, To Live is Better Than to Die ennobles its characters precisely because it keeps its distance. Executive producers Xuehai Wang and Sheila Nevins (HBO/Cinemax), supervising producer Lisa Heller (Cinemax), and producer Joanna Lapping (BBC) brought this tragic story to international attention when this documentary was presented on television in more than ten countries on the same day:December 1, 2003, World AIDS Day. For an intimate journey into the depths of China’s AIDS crisis, a Peabody Award goes to To Live is Better Than to Die.