by Louise Continelli|
News Staff Reporter
Amy Jo Kutzbach had been suffering with AIDS for a long time.
As far back as 1992, the young Buffalo mother was struggling with swollen lymph nodes, rash and fatigue. Even worse, her baby son, Dylan, was dying of the disease.
In an early Buffalo News story on woman and AIDS, she asked the reporter to publish only her middle name. Ms. Kutzbach - who said she contracted AIDS through unsafe heterosexual sex - could tell everyone about it, and she could tell no one.
It's the "funny paradox" her brother refers to in a heartbreaking new documentary about her ordeal, titled "Because I Am," which will be screened at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Network nightclub, at Main Place Tower.
On film her brother Don is told for the first time - just months before her death last spring at age 25.
"It's still a hard thing to tell people," Ms. Kutzbatch explains to her stunned brother in the short film. "I've literally talked to over 40,000 kids.
It's hard for me to tell you, because you love me."
More than anything, Amy Jo Kutzbach dreaded people's pity.
"She was proud, so lively. She wanted to participate in life, not have people look at her as dying," her filmmaker friend Jodi Tripi says in an interview. "She was such a great girl, but other great girls need to know that this could be them, too."
In cinema verite style - enhanced with original music by Mike Jackson, Jim Calabrese and elk - Ms. Tripi, who was Amy's Allentown neighbor, does just that.
"I thought it would be a mistake not to carry on what Amy had to say," says the producer, noting that being white and middle-class is no shield against what's too often smugly dismissed as a plague of the poor.
Subtitled "A Short Film About Amy," her documentary runs under a half-hour. Ms. Tripi wanted it to be much longer, but "with the nature of this disease, we ran out of time."
"As a close friend of Amy's, I needed time to grieve. As a filmmaker, I needed time to completely re-concept the project. I believe what we came up with is a very direct, raw and potent piece."
Amy Kutzbatch wanted to record her devastating revelation to he brother because "it's real life," Ms. Tripi warns. "You see how bad this conversation is? Don't have it. Don't ever be her. On her part, that was really brave. And he handled it really well."
The filmmaker hopes to distribute the Trixie Flix production of "Because I AM" nationally, and part of the screening $15 donation will benefit the Parents and Children Together program at Children's Hospital. Tickets are available at Solid Grounds, Squeaky Wheel, New World Records, Thunder Bay and Where the Wild Things Are. Todd Bellanca is the documentary's director.
"I made a mistake," Ms. Kutzbatch would admit to the students she spoke to. "I can't go back and change it, so here I am." With her chiseled features, cropped hair and John Lennon glasses, she didn't look much older than these kids.
In front of the camera, she screws up her face swallows her medicine, showing viewers her huge array of expensive prescriptions.
Her voice is hoarse, she cautions: "Life is very precious. More precious than anything that you'll ever get."
The image of her cherubic child hovers throughout the film. After Dylan died, she says she "took it upon herself to leave my own small little space of fear and stigma and to go into a broader open space, into a public space."
With "Because I Am," Amy Jo Kutzbach is completely and forever in that "public space." She has used her executioner - AIDS - to make life safer for the rest of us.