June 28, 2008

Haunting Image of Deadly Virus

HAUNTING images of a young girl, painfully thin and with lesions covering her pretty face, will stay with Newcastle filmmaker Daniel Larson Sidhu forever.

He came across the youngster in a sanctuary in South Africa while filming an expose into the way Aids is ravaging South Africa, orphaning children and tearing communities apart.

The little girl was extremely ill and close to death but she still had a beaming smile on her face.

Daniel, 40, recalls: "When we opened the door all these little toddlers came running through.

"I crouched down and they came running towards me, hugging me and giggling."

"It was very emotional."

"There was one girl, Sibongie, who was very ill at the time. She has HIV and had lesions on her face. We really thought she might be about to die "She had a nappy on and she looked at me and smiled."

"When I came back to England I was not sure that she was still alive but a few weeks ago I was on a charity website and I saw a photograph of her at school."

"I am hoping to go back and see her."

" It's going to be emotional. There's going to be tears. I am getting emotional now talking about her."

Daniel, who grew up in the West End of Newcastle, has already been to South Africa to start filming the documentary Voices - the Southern African HIV/Aids Crisis.

He has interviewed well known faces such as Sir Bob Geldof, the late Dame Anita Roddick and Archbishop Tutu as well as Dr Robert C Gallo, the scientist responsible for codiscovering the HIV virus, and for the development of the test.

Daniel, of Gosforth, says: "It is fantastic to meet celebrities and global leaders like Sir Bob Geldof, but it is also about connecting with people on the ground.

"It is very difficult to become detached from what you are seeing. We have seen so much, some very harrowing scenes.

"HIV/Aids is devastating humanity."

Daniel is a former pupil of Rutherford School, now West Gate Community College and Northumbria University, and initially had aspirations to be an actor.

In 1989 he appeared in the first series of Byker Grove, playing the character Rajeev, and worked alongside Declan Donnelly and former Eastenders actress Jill Halfpenny.

He has also starred in the Bollywood film Palace on Wheels, directed by the renowned Delhi-based Nishit Bhatia, and filmed in and around the North East.

After training to be an actor and spending time in Canada he decided to return to his native North East, where his parents and siblings live, and set up a film company, Blue Rain Productions Limited, with his friend Simon Constable.

He says: "The region has been going through an amazing renaissance. You don't need to be in London to make a film.

"Geordies are great people. We are hardworking and passionate."

"When I spoke to Sir Bob Geldof he said he felt like an adopted Geordie, he loves the region. I grew up in this amazing part of the world. I love it here."

For details of the film, visit www.Voiceshivaids.com or visit www.bluerainproductions.co.uk

Next week director and former actor Daniel Larson Sidhu will travel to South Africa to continue filming a moving documentary on the HIV/Aids crisis.

LIZ LAMB finds out more

"Geordies are great people. We are hard-working and passionate. When I spoke to Sir Bob Geldof he said he felt like an adopted Geordie, he loves the region"

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