One Sister at a Time: Positive Women's Stories

"We have to stop with all stereotypes because HIV is an equal opportunity infector." -Film participant

ONE SISTER AT A TIME: POSITIVE WOMEN'S STORIES explores the lives of HIV positive women from their point of view. There are powerful messages in these individual women's stories, which show that HIV affects women of different races, ages, and economic backgrounds.  

Sylvia left her family in Puerto Rico to come to California for better medical care because she "wanted to live." Elaine went undiagnosed for seven years because doctors couldn't imagine that a middle-class white woman could be infected with HIV. Janell was about to get married and found that her fiancé had been HIV positive for 12 years. All of these women have faced struggles, but are powerful survivors who are living fulfilling lives. In the film, they come together in a community that reinforces their feelings of empowerment and hopes for the future.

Discussion Guide  

One Sister at a Time highlights some of the struggles of HIV positive women but also emphasizes their inner strength and the crucial support systems that they form for themselves. This discussion guide spells out some of the movie's themes, and poses some questions that can help you engage your class, your family and friends, or your community in a discussion about women and HIV.


  • Women of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds are potentially at risk of contracting HIV. Many of these women do not fit the stereotypical mold of low-income women who are infected because of a history of drug use or sex work.
  • The stigmatization of HIV positive people is still pervasive and affects both their mental and physical health. Lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS is perpetuating the stigma and fueling the epidemic.
  • Social support networks (including family, friends, and support groups) and self-empowerment are important factors improving the health status of HIV positive women. Photography can be a means for HIV positive women to form community, express themselves, and educate others regarding HIV/AIDS.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why might people be afraid to disclose?
  • What could be some of the benefits of disclosing?
  • What can we do to make it easier for people to disclose?
  • How might gender-whether physiologically or socially-play a role in the fact that women are increasingly at risk of HIV infection?


Facts & Resources


  • Over 55,000 new HIV infections occur in the U.S. each year: about one every 10 minutes.
  • Almost 80% of women contract HIV through heterosexual contact, often from husbands or long-term partners.
  • It is approximately 10 times easier for a woman to get HIV from a man than for a man to get it from a woman.
  • In 1986, women represented less than 7% of U.S. AIDS cases. Currently, women represent over 25% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses.


  • WORLD (Women Organized to Resist Life-Threatening Disease), 414 13th Street, Oakland, CA, 94612, 510-986-0340, "An information and support network by, for, and about women living with HIV/AIDS."
  • East Bay AIDS Center (EBAC), Summit Campus, Providence Pavilion, 3100 Summit Street, 2nd Floor, Oakland, CA 94609, (510) 869-8400
  • Family Care Network (FCN),, "A program spanning Alameda and Contra Costa Counties that brings together providers for the provision of coordinated, client and family-centered  medical and support services for women, children and youth living with HIV/AIDS"
  • San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF), 995 Market St, Ste 200, San Francisco, CA, 94103, (415) 487-3000,
  • Alameda County Public Health Department, Office of AIDS Administration,


Meet the Filmmakers

DEBORAH CRAIG has an eclectic background in history, writing, public health, music, and the visual arts. She received a B.A. in American History from Columbia University, has been a jazz drummer and photographer since her teens, and spent many years in the software industry, writing over a dozen books on various software applications. She joined the Masters in Public Health program at San Francisco State University in the fall of 2006. Besides completing the required coursework, she is taking documentary film classes to search for ways in which the arts can be used to enhance awareness about public health issues. Her short documentary The Verde Garden: Growing a Healthy Community, came out in the Spring of 2007 and was featured in the San Francisco State Film Finals. Another short film she worked on-Living Positive, about HIV positive women in New Orleans-came out in the Spring of 2008.   

VÉRONICA DELIZ was born and raised in Switzerland, where she received a degree in Pharmacy.  She has traveled extensively throughout South and Central America, Asia, Africa and Europe, and is fluent in five languages.  Véronica has worked as a translator, interpreter, diving instructor, and dolphin trainer.  She began her career in filmmaking by participating in a documentary focusing on the rescue and release of a dolphin in captivity, The Blue Beyond (1998 - 6x52' documentary, Télé Image Nature, France).  Upon returning to Switzerland, she worked for four years as a reporter, filmmaker, producer, and director for Swiss Romande National Television (TSR).  Véronica co-directed a set of prominent 5x25' documentary series, Secours en Montagne  (2001) and Profession Guide de Montagne (2003), and has subsequently worked on numerous other features and documentaries in Haiti, India, Sikkim, Népal, Norway, France and Switzerland.  Most recently, she filmed, directed, and co-produced a film showing handicapped kayakers on a grueling twelve-day expedition to Spitzberg, Norway.  Currently Véronica works with Lobitos Creek Ranch Productions here in the Bay Areas an editor and director, and has completed her degree in Cinema at San Francisco State University.

ALLISON HAAGENSEN has a background in photography, education, geography, and Spanish language studies. She has spent the last five years as a literacy program leader in the Oakland and San Francisco public school systems. Allison believes in the power of photography to raise awareness of social justice issues. Some of her recent work documents the Zapatista Liberation Army in Chiapas, Mexico, and has been exhibited at Laney Community College and in San Francisco. "Documentary for Social Justice" at San Francisco State University is Allison's first foray into film. She is passionate about the impact of HIV in her Bay Area community and is honored to contribute to the film project "One Sister at a Time: Positive Women's Stories" alongside the talented team of Deborah Craig, Véronica Deliz, Brett Hickman, and Ryan Hildebrant. Allison graduated from San Francisco State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography and a degree in Spanish language in the Fall of 2009.   

BRETT HICKMAN -when Brett was a young boy, it was common to see Brett carrying his father's large shoulder-mounted VHS camera, make small films with anyone brave enough on the cul-de-sac where he lived. Eventually he attended San Francisco State University, with a major in Cinema. There Brett took part in several student films, including a short documentary entitled The Verde Garden: Growing a Healthy Community, which was featured in the San Francisco State Film Finals and prompted a substantial United Way grant to the Verde Garden. He was also a second camera operator for the documentary, Living Positive, about HIV positive women in New Orleans. Brett graduated from San Francisco State University in May of 2007. He now lives in Irvine, California, where is currently active as a freelance film editor and camera operator.   

RYAN HILDEBRANT has had a lifelong interest in all forms of media. He holds an Associates of Science degree in video production and, prior to coming to San Francisco State University, two years of professional work experience on local documentaries, educational programming, and video production for the web in his home city of San Diego, California. His primary production interests are in lighting and camera, although he is experienced in post production and sound as well. Ryan graduated from San Francisco State University with his Bachelors of Arts in Cinema Production in May of 2008. Ryan was an essential member of the film team for Living Positive, a documentary about HIV positive women in New Orleans.


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*The information on these pages is provided by the student film makers and does not represent an endorsement or verification of statements from the Health Equity Institute