J&J-backed film about early AIDS nurses picked up for broader distribution

The documentary "5B," commissioned by Johnson & Johnson, about a compassionate AIDS ward in San Fransisco in the early 1980s was picked up for wider release. (Raysonho)

Johnson & Johnson’s sponsored AIDS film didn’t win at the Brand Film Festival in New York last week, but it had already won a different prize just a few days earlier.

The film, “5B,” was picked up by Verizon Media and its entertainment studio RYOT for broader distribution in theaters and on demand. It focuses on the nurses who founded and opened the first AIDS ward at San Francisco General Hospital, called Ward 5B.

Verizon and RYOT, currently in the news for its celebrity-laden Lil Dicky song "Earth" and animated video collaboration, will debut “5B” at a premiere at LA Pride in June, with a theatrical release that same month. After that, the film will be released internationally, with a video-on-demand rollout in the fall. “5B” has also been selected for screening at the Cannes Film Festival.

Verizon said it will amplify the movie with “additional immersive content experiences using technology to enhance the story, compassion and humanity showcased by the nurses and caregivers at the forefront of the film.”

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The film was created by Oscar-nominated director Dan Krauss and Saville Productions, which is known for its branded ad and film work. The documentary looks back to 1983, when extraordinary healthcare workers literally built the AIDS wing and compassionately cared for patients at a time when HIV and AIDS were spreading fast but still wildly misunderstood.

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Coupling old footage with current interviews with 5B nurses, the movie illustrates the stigma the predominantly gay patients faced—and nurses' opposite approach. The nurses insisted on not using gloves, for instance, and focused on touch, compassion and acceptance.

After Verizon obtained the rights to the movie, Saville tweeted: “The film is an HIV/AIDS crisis doc, commissioned by Johnson & Johnson, & shows how brands can authentically get behind global issues.”

J&J was not involved with the editorial direction of the movie, but the company does have a vested interest in HIV and AIDS. Its HIV therapy portfolio includes its most recent approval—the once-daily regimen Symtuza—as well as Edurant, Intelence, Prezista and Prezcobix antiretroval meds. Competitors in the HIV combo drug mix include Gilead Sciences' Biktarvy and GlaxoSmithKline’s Juluca, which includes Janssen’s Edurant as one of its components.

J&J has also been vocal about its desire and efforts to develop an HIV vaccine, with several studies underway, including the first efficacy study for a “mosaic” HIV-1 preventive vaccine.