"The Last One" Sews Together the Stories of The AIDS Quilt

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Friday Feb 14, 2014

Red Thread Productions has announced the upcoming release of a new feature-length documentary with a fresh take on the iconic AIDS Memorial Quilt. "The Last One: The Story of the AIDS Memorial Quilt," uncovers the birth of the quilt and its impact on politics, science and the media. Through activists like Cleve Jones, Patricia Nalls and Julie Rhoad, the film explores the role the Quilt continues to play as a response to a disease that, while treatable for some, still affects vulnerable communities around the world.

"This film tells the story of the people the quilt memorializes, and the individuals who have spent their lives speaking out against the stigma of the epidemic," said Nadine Licostie, director of "The Last One" and executive producer at Red Thread Productions. "It also examines how, despite ubiquitous prevention education and treatment options, that stigma still exists. Discrimination, limited access to affordable care and lack of social status have led to 34 million infections worldwide, including 50,000 new cases per year in the U.S. alone."

The quilt was conceived in 1987 "as a weapon against not only the disease but the cruelty and bigotry that the disease exposed," according to one of its founders, Cleve Jones. Now more than 50 miles long, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is a handmade testament to both the struggle of the early days of the epidemic and its continued impact, as panels representing lives lost to the disease continue to stream in from all over the world. "The Last One" frames the quest to sew the last panel into the Quilt, representing the end of AIDS.

In a recent interview, Licostie told EDGE that back in 2011, she was working with The Names Project Foundation on the Smithsonian Folklife Festival display when it quickly became apparent that we needed to document the historical moment of bringing the Quilt back to D.C. and capturing the stories within it. The documentary sprung from this realization.

"Through our filming, I learned just how much impact the Quilt had on individuals, communities and the country as a whole," said Licostie. "The fact that families and friends created these beautiful panels for their loved ones and that these tributes were then sewn together and put on display around the country was groundbreaking. Before Facebook and Twitter, the Quilt brought people together and became both the message and the medium."

The societal bigotry that AIDS exposed was enormous. It prevented governments and scientists from acting quickly, it exacerbated the pain and trauma of the disease and it continues to deter people around the globe from getting tested and getting treatment.

"It is now not only possible, but realistic to imagine an end to stigma and an end to AIDS," said Julie Rhoad, President and CEO of the NAMES Project Foundation. "It is possible to imagine a day when we can sew ’The Last One’ panel into The AIDS Memorial Quilt. Science has begun to articulate a new AIDS narrative: if we test and treat enough people globally, the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic can be changed and we will begin to end AIDS, and ’The Last One’ can become a reality."

When this day comes, said Licostie, the Quilt must be preserved, as it is "the largest community art project in the world and as art is should be protected as a national treasure. We must do what we can to keep it traveling around the country and the world. It must be used as a way to educate and to remember."

Licostie hopes that those who were witness to the early devastation that HIV/AIDS wrought -- those who created the Quilt -- will get a chance to see it. She also hopes that young people around the world will see it, so they can learn about the legacy of the Quilt and get informed about the current situation surrounding HIV/AIDS in America and around the globe.

The documentary is an official selection at the upcoming Santa Barbara International Film Festival and is also nominated for the Fund for Santa Barbara Social Justice Award for Documentary Film, for addressing a critical social and political justice issue. It just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising $36,082 to help spread the word about the film.

For more information or to watch the trailer, visit

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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