Behind the lens of HIV

by Emily Woods / Beacon Correspondent • March 28, 2013

Brightlights
Director of Inside Lara Roxx speaks about her project with former porn star Lara Roxx.
Director of Inside Lara Roxx speaks about her project with former porn star Lara Roxx.

The Bright Family Screening Room filled with grave silence as a 21-year-old girl consumed the screen, and told the camera, “I’m going to die. Do you hear me? I’m going to die.”

Emerson students and faculty, and a few Bostonians, showed up on Wednesday, March 27 to see Mia Donovan’s debut documentary, which began with a flashy montage of porn stars, strippers, and sex.

Inside Lara Roxx follows a Canadian girl who, in 2004, became the first known individual in four years to contract HIV while working on an American porn video. The story is told through the lens of Donovan, a Montreal-based Canadian filmmaker and photographer.

Donovan said the six years she spent working on Inside Lara Roxx was a long, personal journey that started in 2004, when she wrote a letter to Roxx asking to help her tell her story in the midst of heavy media exploitation. A response came a year later from a psychiatric ward in Montreal where Roxx was admitted for suffering from bipolar disorder.

In the ward, Roxx is chained at the feet and locked to her bed; she is visibly unstable. Donovan expressed how she initially felt uncomfortable filming Roxx, but was urged to continue.

The documentary continues as Roxx is shown returning to Los Angeles’ porn industry as a public health advocate, in and out of treatment centers, a victim of substance abuse, and even close to homeless at one point.

“I shot a lot of stuff that was maybe harder to see,” said Donovan of the film’s controversial material. “But the camera is a barrier in a way, and, I had made a commitment to this project.”

The Inside Lara Roxx screening was sponsored by Captured Emotion, Emerson’s student organization dedicated solely to documentary and nonfiction work.

Donovan explained to the audience that Inside Lara Roxx is very characteristic of documentary work she tends to do. 

“I’m really interested in breaking down stereotypes, and understanding the background behind people who may be easy to judge or easy to dismiss,” said Donovan.

Heather Hoglund, a senior BFA documentary production major, said she related to a lot of Donovan’s views on nonfiction filmmaking.

“I liked when she spoke of the struggles and challenges of being a filmmaker and of being so attached to our work that we are unable to look at it objectively,” said Hoglund, who is working on finishing a documentary of her own for her senior thesis.

As far as Donovan’s foray into documentary making, Hoglund said she was impressed with the film and grateful for the opportunity to hear Donovan speak.

“I really liked the controversial aspect of Inside Lara Roxx,” said Hoglund. “And having the filmmaker there and having her speak about the journey brought a lot more to the experience of the film than the film alone could have done.”