Latest Stop Aids film set to raise eyebrows

Images in the government's Aids awareness film are purposely provocative. BAG

A new film, part of an Aids prevention campaign, is being released on Friday in Switzerland. Its content promises controversy.

This content was published on July 14, 2000 - 09:52

Over the past 10 years the Swiss federal health office's anti-aids campaigns have become internationally famous for their open approach to sex and sexuality.

The trade mark pink condom is a familiar symbol across Switzerland, but the direct approach taken by the films and posters has caused offence in some sections of society, and the latest campaign is sure to be no exception.

The new film is designed to remind people, in particular young people, to use a condom. It is a glossy black and white production, showing a beautiful young couple on a beach, in the style of a commercial for designer products such as perfume or clothes.

But the film's end is certain to take viewers by surprise. Taking the theme of tying a knot in a handkerchief as a reminder to do something, the last shot is a close-up of a penis tied into a knot. The message is simple: don't forget to use a condom.

"Switzerland has always been very open and upfront in its Stop Aids publicity," says Markus Alleman, director of Aids prevention at the federal health office. "The World Health Organization has said it is very happy with what we do. We're lucky that we can take this direct approach, not every country is able to be so open."

But even in Switzerland the Stop Aids campaigns arouse controversy. Two years ago the posters advising those committing adultery to use condoms offended religious groups who thought the federal health office would have done better to suggest that people refrain from straying outside their marriages.

Meanwhile the posters with graphic illustrations from the Kama Sutra, with the caption, "We don't care how you achieve it, as long as you use a condom", also caused outrage in some quarters.

"The fact is, this style of campaign does work," says Alleman. "We have shown that our publicity does raise awareness and it has encouraged more people to use condoms."

Statistics bear this out: 10 years ago Switzerland had the highest rate of HIV infection in Europe. Now the rate of infection has been reduced dramatically, and the problem the federal health office faces now is growing complacency.

"Some young people think Aids is just not a problem anymore and we hope this film will remind them that it is something they still need to think about," said Alleman.

Nevertheless Alleman is bracing himself for criticism once the new film is shown in cinemas across Switzerland this week. The image of a penis as a reminder to use a condom will not please everyone.

"It is a bit hard to get all the negative letters," he admits. "It would be nice to get some positive ones, too. But it's part of the job, and it's in the Swiss nature to criticise a bit."

The federal health office says the criticism will all be worth it if that famous knot persuades young people to use a condom. And even if the film does not please everyone, that last shot will certainly fuel some lively debate.

by Imogen Foulkes

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