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City AIDS Survivor Featured in Documentary

 

By JOSEPH SAPIA

In 1986, Asbury Park’s Scott Smith was diagnosed with AIDS. Twenty-seven years later, he is going strong.

“I don’t want to give up that Social Security check,” he joked.
Seriously, Smith, 56, attributes his longevity with the immune system disease to having good medical care, living a healthy lifestyle and having a “good personal relationship with God.”

Those in the health-care field say the vibrant Smith is a survivor, said Katie Rotondi, who is putting together a documentary film on Smith and six other over-50 AIDS victims.

“It’s predominantly people who are aging with AIDS,” said Rotondi, 26, who grew up in Hampton, Sussex County, but now lives in New York City.

Basically, this age group is the first to have to deal with aging and having AIDS.
By 2015, more than 50 percent of America’s 1.3 million people with HIV will be older than 50, according to publicity for the film. By 2020, that percentage is expected to grow to 75 percent, according to the information.

Rotondi hopes to have the film, “Positively Aging,” wrapped up later this year, ready to submit to film festivals and public television in early 2014.

“If I could prevent one person from getting HIV, it’s one of the goals of doing this documentary,” said Smith, who lives with 24 others with AIDS at Center House on Third Avenue.

Both Smith and Rotondi believe there is a complacency today over AIDS. Younger people think AIDS drugs will protect them from the disease killing them and practice unsafe sex, Smith said.

Smith believes he was infected with HIV between 1980 to 1984 through unprotected homosexual sex.

“It was our own fault. We were promiscuous,” he said.

While Smith was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, that was the year Rotondi was born. Rotondi said she has always been socially concerned.

Smith, a former heavy construction worker and limousine driver, has been disabled by the disease for the past 22 year. He has had health issues related to AIDS over the years: pneumonia, the replacement of his right hip, organ failure, nerve damage and diverticulitis.

Today, he is an activist-volunteer within the AIDS community.

“I have had only one golden rule, ‘Never infect anyone,’” Smith said. “And I haven’t.”

The other six being profiled in the movie are four gay men and two straight women. All seven were infected with HIV from either unprotected sex or intravenous drug use. Six were diagnosed in the 1980s or early 1990s, one of the males only in the last 18 months at 59-years-old.

One of the men has died since filming started.

Rotondi has no close connection to the world of AIDS, but she said social issues have interested her. A family member who is a film editor has a nurse-friend and the nurse talked about people aging with AIDS.

“I immediately thought it was very interesting,” said Rotondi, who began work on the project shortly after she got the idea in 2010. “…I like to be the voice of the underdog. I guess I was kind of a liberal kid.”

So, she made contact with someone in the AIDS community and that led to other contacts.

“People who are aging with HIV are eager to tell their stories,” said Rotondi, adding that she heard she was trusting.

Smith liked her immediately upon meeting her.

“You’re very easy,” he told her.

While telling a story, Rotondi has learned, too. AIDS victims had to wait for the world to catch up with the disease, she said.

The story is being told through the subjects and people that know them, along with AIDS researchers, Rotondi said. She expects the film to run about an hour and 15 minutes.

People are living longer with AIDS.

“A huge part is medicine and some people theorize it could be something about their (immune) systems,” Rotondi said.

Also, older people are being diagnosed with AIDS at a higher rate than decades ago when the disease was discovered.

Why?

“No one knows for sure,” Rotondi said. “But there’s theories out there.”
The theories include the complacency about AIDS, because it has taken a back-burner to other issues and news; erectile dysfunction medications creating more active sex lives; and active sex lives among senior citizens who are single.

The film is expected to cost at most $25,000, Rotondi said.

She has already spent $7,000 and is now trying to raise $10,000 via the www.kickstarter.com fund-raising site. Her deadline is Wed., July 31, to raise at least the $10,000; Otherwise, she will get no money via Kickstarter.

Rotondi focused on documentaries while in college. This is her first film project of this scale since graduating college in 2009.

The film’s website, www.postivelyagingfilm.com, is expected to be running about Aug. 1, 2013. It will go beyond the movie, serving as a resource site to the AIDS community.

 
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