Living With the Tiger 2010
Distributed by Chivit Mai Productions, 8 Moo 3 Patak Soi 9, Patak Rd., T.Karon, A.Muang, Phuket 83100, Thailand
Produced by Rak Wongsombut and Mike Thomas
Directed by Mike Thomas
DVD, color, 88 min.
Sr. High-General Adult
AIDS/HIV, Health Sciences, Children, Social Sciences, Thailand
Date Entered: 06/25/2012Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA
People in Thailand, like others around the world, face the problem of what to do about children born HIV-positive and likely to be orphaned early in life. Mostly, they are abandoned—left to fend for themselves despite their tender years, shunned by families that could have been expected to care for them, and ignored by communities that would normally take responsibility for the innocent victims of a devastating disease.
Living with the Tiger documents a visionary project in Thailand in which HIV-positive children of all ages have been gathered together into a community called Baan Gerda. The idea of a Westerner named Karl Mosbach, Baan Gerda is not an orphanage, or a school, or a hospital. Rather, it combines what such institutions offer that these children need in a family-like setting among adults whose mission is to help the children live as normally as possible.
The children live in houses in groups of ten with two adult “parents” who do what all parents do: help them gain life skills such as cooking a meal, driving a car, tending a garden, and getting along with their peers. The children go to school, take music lessons, play sports, and do the things all children do. But they also get the medications they need to regain their health. The goal is to make it possible for them to return to their families and communities and live normal lives.
One of the teachers—a gifted composer—has an idea to show ordinary villagers that they can live with HIV-positive children without fear of becoming infected. He writes an opera based on the story of The Life of Pi, and arranges for the children to perform it. Three children star as Pi, expressed in Thai tradition, by a puppet. Several portray the tiger, artfully formed with sticks and painted parts. Ten more perform the musical accompaniment, on xylophones. In the opera, Pi tames the frightening tiger, just as the children of Baan Gerda tame HIV. A large audience comes to see the show and their applause demonstrates it is a huge success.
Simultaneously, the stories of three children are detailed in the film, showing the way their families and friends treated them before and during their stay at Baan Gerda, making for a somewhat disjointed flow of the action. The longer version is much more understandable than the shorter one, for all audiences. English subtitles are provided for the Thai speakers, but not for English speakers. Camera work and editing are acceptable, but it took this reviewer several viewings before she could follow the threads of the various stories. The significance of this film is that it treats its subject with sensitivity and offers a viable solution to a vexing problem.