“I love being called a mother,” smiles Mutinta Mweemba. ” Just being a mom makes me so happy.” Mutinta is 28 years old. She has three children with her husband, Abacorn, a cow herder and farmer. They live in Monze, Zambia. “As a child,” she continues, “I always dreamed of growing up into someone perfect. But I failed. It didn’t turn out that way.” As she speaks, Mutinta gazes steadily into the camera, her face at once composed and stricken. Her story unfolds slowly in The Carrier, which is screening at Maysles Cinema on 21 June, and followed by a Q&A with filmmakers Maggie Betts and Mike Brown.
Focused on the effects of HIV, the film begins as Mutinta, her husband Abarcon, and one his two other wives, Brenda, are all positive. No one knows how the virus came into their family; everyone in the chiefdom has been affected. “We first heard about this virus back in 1979,” says Patrick Nchimunya, second in command to the chief. “A lot of people were suffering.” A brief tour of a clinic reveals some effects, with patients lying listless on beds, nurses moving quickly across frames already bustling with activity, and children standing in doorways, waiting.
Though Abarcon resists thinking about consequences (“We just don’t know the future”), Brenda and Mutinta can think of nothing else: they have children destined to grow up without mothers. In the face of this certain risk, men throughout the chiefdom continue to behave as they always have, unable or unwilling to feel responsible, for themselves and their loved ones. During an alarming but hardly unexpected scene, Nchimunya visits with a group of men, who laugh at their reported inabilities to control themselves. He looks dismayed, then tries to explain what’s at stake. The camera cuts from one face to another. It’s not clear at all that the men understand.
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