Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt is a 1989 documentary film that tells the story of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, the film focuses on several people who are represented by panels in the Quilt, combining personal reminiscences with archive footage of the subjects, along with footage of various politicians, health professionals and other people with AIDS. Each section of the film is punctuated with statistics detailing the number of Americans diagnosed with and dead of AIDS through the early years of the epidemic. The film ends with the first display of the complete (to date) Quilt at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. during the 1987 Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

The film was based in part on the book The Quilt: Stories From The NAMES Project by Cindy Ruskin (writer), Matt Herron (photographs) and Deborah Zemke (design).

The film relates the lives of six people memorialized with panels:

  • Dr. Tom Waddell, founder of the Gay Games; his story is told by his friend and the mother of his child, Sara Lewinstein.
  • David Mandell Jr., a young hemophiliac; his storytellers are his parents, David Mandell and Suzi Mandell.
  • Robert Perryman, an African-American man who contracted the disease through intravenous drug use; his widow, Sallie Perryman, tells his story.
  • Jeffrey Sevcik, a gay man; his story is told by his partner, film critic and historian Vito Russo.
  • David C. Campbell, a United States Navy veteran; his storyteller is his lover, Tracy Torrey, who then became his own storyteller as well as he succumbed to the disease and was memorialized in the course of filming.

Along with these personal stories, the film reviews the history of the NAMES Project and shows the process of creating quilt panels. It also documents the response - or perceived lack of it - to the onset of the AIDS epidemic by the Reagan administration through the use of archive footage of Reagan and members of his administration, the medical community's action in the face of the burgeoning health crisis, and the earliest attempts within the gay community to organize around the AIDS issue through the actions of such activists as self-proclaimed "KS poster boy" Bobbi Campbell and Gay Men's Health Crisis and ACT UP co-founder Larry Kramer.


Common Threads won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 1990. This was the second Oscar for producer/director Rob Epstein. He had previously won for The Times of Harvey Milk, a biography of openly gay San Francisco politician Harvey Milk. The film also won the Interfilm Award at the 1990 Berlin Film Festival, a GLAAD Media Award for Best TV Documentary and a Peabody Award.

DVD release

Common Threads was released on Region 1 DVD on June 8, 2004.

External links

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