Photographer and filmmaker Nigel Barker — best known for sitting on Tyra Banks' judging panel on America's Next Top Model — also donates his time to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Most recently, Barker directed Generation Free, a 45-minute documentary that chronicles the Foundation's efforts to create a generation of children free of the HIV virus in Tanzania. In commemoration of World AIDS Day, Generation Free will air on the TV Guide Network on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 7/6c (the film repeats at 10/9c, or you can watch it in its entirety here).
TVGuide.com spoke to Barker about why his film focuses on Tanzania, what is being done to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus and how working in Africa has inspired his activism.
TVGuide.com: Why Tanzania?
Nigel Barker: We looked at several countries initially, and there were other countries we could've gone to where HIV is perhaps more devastating. Tanzania is a shining example of what needs to be done and is being done. The big message here is the only way to create a generation free is to get everyone involved, the entire country from the president on down. It was a way of, instead of saying, "Look how good we've done here in the U.S.; look how bad they're doing in some country in Africa," making such a big deal of it, it was saying, "Look, yes, we've done a good job here; they're trying there, we need to help them." That was really the message: This is a country that needs our help.
TVGuide.com: Tell us about preventing mother-to-child transmission.
Barker: Pediatric AIDS is basically transferred from mother to child. The cornerstone of treatment is to identify an HIV-positive mother the moment she walks in, to make sure she's tested and therefore give her the right medication and treatment. It's only one pill, and once the baby's born you make sure they go on formula and you have a 97 percent chance the baby will then be HIV-negative. It's almost guaranteed. That's why it's so critical. It's absolutely imperative that the mothers get tested. What Tanzania has done is made it a national protocol that all babies, all women are tested for HIV when they go into a clinic. They can opt out, but they have to opt out; otherwise, they get tested.
TVGuide.com: What's it like, as a photographer and filmmaker, working in Africa?
Barker: Whenever you're out in the field or in the bush, it's difficult, because you have no creature comforts, no access to electricity, there's a lot of mosquitoes, it's tough — heavy equipment and all that stuff. But it's also magical; special things happen when you're struggling to some extent. Artists thrive in difficult circumstances. You can only sing the blues if you've seen or experienced them.
One of the great things as a photographer and a filmmaker is when you're in these environments, you see the issue and see the trouble, but you also see how people are rising above it and try and tell that story. We're a species that loves to see people conquer difficult situations and it makes us all feel better about ourselves and gives us hope. As a filmmaker, the stories that I want to tell are the ones that make a better world and help others, to create a better world for the next generation.
Nigel Barker talks about making Generation Free:
For more information about how you can help the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, visit their official site.