Docs

Aubrey Powell: from album cover artist to socially-conscious doc-maker

The timing of the release of Aubrey Powell's It Could Never Happen to Me marks the 40 years since HIV/AIDS was discovered, and the DCD Rights-distributed film travels the globe looking at the reality of the disease today. Powell, writer and director of the film, details the situation of HIV and AIDS in various countries, and discusses the career path that brought him to the project.
January 27, 2010

The timing of the release of Aubrey Powell’s It Could Never Happen to Me marks the 40 years since HIV/AIDS was discovered, and the DCD Rights-distributed film travels the globe looking at the reality of the disease today. Powell, writer and director of the film, details the situation of HIV and AIDS in various countries, and discusses the career path that brought him to the project.

Powell and his production company Hipgnosis Limited (Hipgnosis being the design company he founded with Storm Thorgerson in 1968, the source of album cover artwork for artists such as Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Genesis) scoured the globe, looking at HIV/AIDS in other countries. Important messages in the film, according to Powell, are that HIV is a difficult disease to catch, but it can remain dormant for up to six years or longer. Despite antiretrovirals, which the film discusses, the disease is still killing those infected. ‘The saddest thing for me is that some of the people I interviewed who are very beautiful and forthcoming people have died since I made the program,’ says Powell.

The film was made in Brazil, India, Thailand, the Ukraine, New York, San Francisco, London and South Africa. ‘We chose those locations specifically to show how in some cases, some countries are succeeding well in their fight against the disease – for example, Thailand and Brazil – and some are not, for example the Ukraine and India,’ he says. The film explores what countries are doing to drop infection rates, and why other countries are devastated by the virus.

Powell had previously worked with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, filming concerts with major acts to get the message out about AIDS prevention. He’d presented an idea to the foundation years ago about making an HIV/AIDS-focused film. ‘I couldn’t have done it without the Nelson Mandela Foundation name attached,’ says Powell. ‘I couldn’t have gotten doctors and scientists and experts to talk without his name.’

It’s a mighty honor for Powell, and also an interesting career path for the man once responsible for legendary album covers. ‘When punk came along, the Sex Pistols started doing covers sticking bits of newspaper on them and I knew that was the time to call it a day,’ he remembers. ‘My album covers were far more complex and expensive than that.’

From there, Powell tried his hand at music videos for 10 years during MTV’s beginning, then moved into commercials and then feature films, of which Powell claims none were very successful. Finally he decided to do what he really wanted, and make documentaries. His doc slate is busy; this year he did It Could Never Happen To Me, and after that was a 3D IMAX film about the bull run in Pamplona, Spain. In addition, he just finished filming a new Monty Python film called Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy), which is the musical version of The Life of Brian. Also coming up for Powell are films on Darcy Bustle, England’s greatest ballerina and a film about jazz dancers.

He hasn’t left his music background completely behind as, in addition to his doc work, he also serves as the creative director for The Who. ‘So how did I progress? I just did,’ he summarizes.

It Could Never Happen ToMe (1×60 minutes) has been picked up by ABC Australia, VIASAT Sweden and Czech TV, with no airdate set.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.

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