Don’t miss documentary on Arkansas’s little known prison blood scandal

Arkansans will have a rare opportunity to see the award-winning documentary “Factor 8: the Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal” this weekend, when the film is presented in Little Rock as part of the Ozark Foothills Film Festival.

Those who can’t make the showing can order the film.

I was one of the first reporters to describe how Arkansas prisons were still drawing blood from inmates for sale on the international market, long after the practice had been stopped for being too dangerous in other states. Little Rock filmmaker Kelly Duda spent years developing the story further for this remarkable film.

The screening will be held on Saturday, Mar. 31, at 7:30 p.m. at the Market Street Theater; admission $5. Following the screening, I will be part of a panel discussion, moderated by film critic Philip Martin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, with Duda and John Schock, a former inmate and blood donor.
Produced, written and directed by Duda, with music by Nick Devlin, the 2006 film explains the little understood story of how infected blood collected from inmates in Arkansas prisons under the administration of Gov. Bill Clinton made its way into pharmaceuticals that were sold to hemophiliacs around the world. Many users of the medication in Canada, Great Britain and Japan contracted Hepatitis C and HIV.

Writing in Variety, reviewer John Anderson called the flm, “A sturdy, concise, no-nonsense documentary that should hit screens as soon as possible.” He noted that, while Duda’s film “has limited theatrical options, but would probably win Peabodys if shown on “Frontline,” HBO or any of the several other outlets with social agendas and nerve enough to air the appalling story related in this unconventional movie.”

“Factor 8” won a Special Mention Award from the International Documentary Jury at the 2005 American Film Institute Film Festival and Best Documentary Content Award in the 2006 Boston International Film Festival.

The story has been largely squelched, especially in this country, yet plenty of history has been unearthed. There’s a good explanation in the authoritative Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.
Reporter Suzi Parker wrote a fine series on the topic in 1998 for Salon.
Here’s the IMDB review.

What follows is a review of Duda’s film by C.D. Mazoff, Ph.D., managing editor of the HCV Advocate, a hepatitis C support organization, written earlier this month:
“That this film ever saw the light of day is a testament to the courage and heart for justice of Kelly Duda. . . Kelly who?

“Well nobody can really blame you for not knowing who this person is if you are an American with hepatitis C, but if you’’re a Canadian or British hemophiliac and you received blood products from the US in the 1980’’s, chances are you got tainted blood harvested from the Arkansas prison system, and that you are already sadly familiar with this debacle.

“Factor 8 is an award winning documentary that investigates how it was that blood from prisoners, many of whom were not screened, was legally harvested in Arkansas and then sold to Canada and other countries, although the use of this blood and its products (clotting factors, gammaglobulin, etc.) in the United States was prohibited by American law.

“As a result of what can only be seen as a ridiculously hideous affair, in which the greedy and the small-minded managed to outdo even themselves, thousands of people were infected with hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV. Many have since died; others linger on in pain and suffering. Few have been compensated as a result of this injustice; a suit in Canada is in the process of being settled for victims of the Arkansas blood, and as I remember, attempts in the UK to hold the blood brokers accountable has come to naught.

“And no wonder why! Big names are involved. Former president Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas at the time this was happening, and former Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin, sat on the board of directors of the Canadian Development Corporation, the holding company for the private company, Connaught Laboratories, the major supplier of blood products in Canada, specifically Factor VIII used by hemophiliacs. The Canadian Red Cross got a slap on the wrist for trying to save a few pennies by not testing the blood for elevated ALT’’s, although this test was used in the US in the late 1980’’s –– but that’’s neither here nor there, since the US was smart enough to ban Arkansas blood from distribution within US borders.

“What can one say? The film is excellent, well photographed, well-told and extremely unsettling. It is depressing as heck, but necessary for the soul. How Mr. Duda persisted through all the personal harassment he underwent as various agencies tried to stop him from making this film, I don’’t know. A man with a great soul and a bigger heart!

“Even now Mr. Duda has troubles having the film aired –– even on PBS in the US and in Canada, despite the fact that it has received rave reviews from the major independent film critics and even Variety magazine. The political pressure to keep this film SILENT is very strong. It makes you wonder what else there is they haven’’t told us.

“As Kelly told the audience in a recent screening of his film at the The King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, “”Make no mistake about it; evil men did evil things in Arkansas. Their motivation was greed. But these men were relatively few. However, what made them powerful was the silence of many, many others that stood by and did nothing while the crimes were continuing and lives were being destroyed.””

“If you have hepatitis C, this movie is for you. If you are a community advocate this movie is even more for you because it is a real inspiration and a reminder of what advocacy entails, as well as of the many battles that still lay before us. This is something that should be in every hepatitis C support group’’s library.

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