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Greg’s Review of “Pedro”

Okay, let’s just get this out of the way: I cried.

In the final moments of watching Pedro at the Outfest Fusion Film Festival Saturday night, the tears just flowed. I seemed to be crying all over again over the loss of the remarkable Pedro Zamora who we got to know and love 15 years ago during the third season of MTV’s The Real World.

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Pedro was an HIV-positive Cuban-American whose tine in the Real World house on Lombard Street brought a face to the AIDS crisis. Then-President Bill Clinton, who has taped a special introduction to this film, credited Zamora with personalizing and humanizing those with the disease. Pedro learned he was HIV-positive while a junior in high school. He was just 17 and decided to spend the rest of his life educating people about the disease that claimed his life just five years later.

He died the night the final episode of the season aired which we knew. But I do not think it is well-known how much he suffered in his final months. As America was watching this amazingly articulate young man give HIV-prevention talks in schools, off-screen he could no longer speak. He suffered from PML, a rare and usually fatal viral inflammation of the brain contracted by only about 1 percent of AIDS patients. The film does not shy away from showing his physical deterioration or tensions between his family and his partner.

In watching this fine film – far better than I had expected going in – it felt like 1994 all over again. I was a far younger man then and I remember spending entire Saturday afternoons watching marathons of the that classic San Francisco season before hitting the gay bars in Long Beach where I lived at the time. I vividly remember key moments and scenes from that season and the film does a remarkable job of recreating those and taking you back to that time.

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Director Nick Oceano has assembled a top-notch cast for the film with Alex Loynaz first-rate in the title role. He doesn’t especially look like Zamora facially and doesn’t try imitate his speech so much, but he captures the essence of Pedro so very well. He is perfectly complimented in the many scenes with the remarkable Justina Machado who plays his devoted sister, Milly. You may remember Machado from her role as Freddy Rodriguez’s wife on Six Feet Under but in this film, you get to see what a powerful actress she is. She breaks your heart her love for her brother is so steadfast and Machado’s performance – the best in the movie – is  natural and real.

The key characters of Real World housemates, Judd Winick (played by Hale Appleman) and Pam Ling (played by Jenn Liu) are cast well as is the role of Sean Sasser (played by DaJuan Johnson), who Pedro marries in a commitment ceremony in one of the final episodes of the show. Yes, there is a Puck in the movie and Matt Barr, who plays him, is far cuter than the real one . Barr’s Puck is as annoying as the real one!

Dustin Lance Black, who won the Academy Award a few weeks ago for the screenplay for Milk, is credited with writing Pedro and shares the story credit with Paris Barclay. I’m not sure when Lance wrote the script but his involvement seems to be somewhat in the past because when I asked him about the movie at the Directors Guild of America awards in January, he did not seem to know what had become of it. It’s not going to win any Oscars or even an Emmy, but it’s a fine script.

Pedro is set to premiere on MTV and Logo on April 1 with a DVD release that will also contain three Real World episodes from the San Francisco season, to follow.  It is my hope that the young people who watch will get a much-needed wake-up call about HIV and AIDS. Infections are on the upswing and it is obviously because of the treatments now available that no longer make it a death sentence. But what kept people of my generation in line was the horror of young people like Pedro, just starting out in life with so much to give, die horrible deaths.

This is not a disease you want to have – even in 2009.

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FILE UNDER: Film Festivals, Movies

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