White Hotel

In 1993, Dianne Griffin and Tobi Solvang traveled to Eritrea, a small country in Southeast Africa that had just won a 30-year war of independence against Ethiopia. But these Americans came with a grim mission: Griffin and Solvang planned to make a film about the AIDS epidemic that's currently one the leading causes of death in Africa. But lacking the experience...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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In 1993, Dianne Griffin and Tobi Solvang traveled to Eritrea, a small country in Southeast Africa that had just won a 30-year war of independence against Ethiopia. But these Americans came with a grim mission: Griffin and Solvang planned to make a film about the AIDS epidemic that's currently one the leading causes of death in Africa. But lacking the experience and the wherewithal necessary for such a difficult project, their film quickly takes on the air of one of those Nick Broomfield documentaries in which the filmmaker, denied access to his subject, becomes the focus. The seeds are sown at the airport, when Griffin receives some tragic news: Her alcoholic father had just been killed in a terrible accident. Refusing to allow her father to disrupt her life yet again, a determined Griffin boards the plane, then spends the rest of the film battling her own (understandable) feelings of guilt and deep personal loss. Once she and Solvang arrive in Eritrea's capital city, Asmara, they learn that they're going to have to wait nearly two weeks before the Department of Health approves their interview questions. In the meantime, Solvang and Griffin glean a few salient facts about HIV transmission in Eritrea — it often occurs between prostitutes and their clients, and is spread around the country by truck drivers — and experience first-hand the difficulty in discussing "the bad disease" in a country that discourages any talk about sexuality. The filmmakers then leave the city for more remote parts and their serious subject, which includes the related topic of female circumcision, must compete with personal detritus better suited to an episode of MTV's The Real World. Solvang gets a boyfriend (a driver, no less, with whom she later has unprotected sex), while Griffin broods about her troubled relationship with her father. Sad facts about HIV transmission are immediately followed by Solvang's girlish exclamations, which have the tone of diary entries from a junior year abroad: "I loved being with Monir! We were together almost every night..." Meanwhile, an obviously depressed Griffin compares 30 years of guerrilla warfare to her unhappy childhood: "I was in no mood to celebrate [Eritrea's independence]... the war in my house never ended happily." The film only gains its footing in the final half hour, when Griffin and Solvang interview a healer who regularly performs female circumcisions and, finally, two people who actually have AIDS.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: In 1993, Dianne Griffin and Tobi Solvang traveled to Eritrea, a small country in Southeast Africa that had just won a 30-year war of independence against Ethiopia. But these Americans came with a grim mission: Griffin and Solvang planned to make a film abo… (more)

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