By turns frightening and fascinating, compassionate and compelling, the tough-titled documentary "Why Us? Left Behind and Dying" is an all-too-essential look at the disproportionately high rate of HIV/AIDS in black America and sub-Saharan Africa. Claudia Pryor Malis' candid, compactly informative film, showing for one week to qualify for much-deserved Oscar consideration, examines an extremely complex issue in a laudably accessible yet hard-hitting way.
Part feature film, part research project, "Why Us?" follows 20 curious, courageous inner-city teens from Pittsburgh's academically challenged Westinghouse High School as they explore the history and profusion of HIV/AIDS throughout their community and culture. These kids pose probing questions about the disease to a series of school visitors, including straights, gays, intravenous drug users, HIV-positive locals (several of whom are separately profiled as well) and doctors and scientists from America and Africa. The students also take pains to open up directly to director Malis about their own safe -- or unsafe -- sex practices and fears about HIV/AIDS. Westinghouse alumna Tamira Noble, 20, nicely serves as the film's narrator.