To Live Is Better Than to Die

Director: Weijun Chen

Institute History

  • 2003 Sundance Film Festival


The global AIDS crisis has been largely ignored in China, where official neglect and lack of information about the disease are as crucial to its control as individual behavior. To Live Is Better Than to Die depicts a year in the life of an HIV-infected family in central China's Henan Province in as brutally frank and emotionally naked a way as one can imagine onscreen.

Directed by Weijun Chen, this brave, stark documentary portrays a family whose members are in various stages of illness or health: The mother has full-blown AIDS, the father is HIV positive, two children are also infected with HIV, and the eldest child is virus-free. How they cope, how they view themselves and their disease, how they interact as a family and confront inevitable death are all part of daily life but can barely be called existence.

Not an easy film, nor one fated to meet with approval from Beijing, To Live Is Better Than to Die takes a clinical, unemotional approach to a wrenching situation and ennobles its characters precisely because it keeps its distance. No happy endings are possible in such a film, except perhaps for the sense, implied by the title, that life is better lived than not.

— Diane Weyermann

Screening Details


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