Atlanta filmmaker brings famed ‘American Run’ to life in new documentary

Credit: Courtesy of Hup! Productions

Credit: Courtesy of Hup! Productions

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

Atlanta filmmaker Cara Consilvio chronicles Brent Nicholson Earle’s 1986 “The American Run for the End of AIDS” in the new documentary called “For the Love of Friends,” which begins airing on American Public Television June 1. It’s her feature film directing debut.

In a just world, Earle would be acknowledged more for the work he did as an AIDS activist. As a gay man living in New York when the crisis began in the ‘80s, it was not uncommon for him to have dozens of friends die in a single week. Looking for a way to do something to help, Earle came up with an unorthodox plan — he decided to make a 10,000-mile run around the country to raise funds and bring awareness to HIV/AIDS.

As someone who normally has to be proactive about her projects, Consilvio was surprised that this one found her. “That never happens,” she says with a laugh. Her mother-in-law, Barbara Martinez, has been an AIDS activist for 30 years and had worked with Earle a while. Martinez set aside money that she was initially going to give to charity but instead spoke to Consilvio about working on a documentary of Earle’s life instead, especially since no one had told his story.

Credit: Courtesy of Hup! Productions

Credit: Courtesy of Hup! Productions

When Consilvio and Earle got together to talk shop, they did just that — in spades. “We met for five hours, bonding over Uta Hagen and New York theater stories,” she says. “We had so much in common. I was fascinated by why he’d choose to do this insane thing and run around America.”

Earle moved to New York in 1970. There, he got to fulfill a dream of working in theater as an actor and playwright. Yet, when the AIDs crisis began, it was especially hard for the theater community. “That is where people felt it first and the most, with amazing artists just gone,” says Consilvio. “As his community was losing people, Brent was figuring out what he could do.”

His calling came to him from his then-deceased father, who suggested — over the course of what Earle calls a “dark night” — that Earle should do for AIDS what Terry Fox did for cancer. (Fox was an activist who had a leg amputated because of cancer and ran across his native Canada in 1980 for awareness). Ironically, though, Earle was not a runner, so he had to spend two years training. Once the tour started, the pace was grueling — he ran six days a week, with one day off, for 20 months. He’d run through snow and even through injury and illness. Only once when he had pneumonia did his mother, who was traveling with him as his road manager, force him to take time off.

Starting and ending in New York, the journey was not without some wrinkles. As Earle started his unprecedented run, some people yelled at him, but no one ever threw anything. The most hurtful moments weren’t in Southern red states but traveling from Santa Monica to Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway, where onlookers made terrible comments and protesters would hold signs saying “Get Your AIDS Out of Here.” Even in his hometown in western New York, police refused to give him an escort as he returned to town, which disappointed him. “It was dangerous, but he didn’t care,” Consilvio says.

Credit: Courtesy of Hup! Productions

Credit: Courtesy of Hup! Productions

In every place Earle stopped on his journey, he would host a press conference and encourage people to donate to local organizations. He’d also sell “American Run for the end of AIDS” T-shirts and buttons at local gay clubs. After the run ended, he staged two more, the last one from San Francisco to New York — on roller skates.

In 2020, Earle came back to the New York stage, acting and writing “For the Love of Friends: A story about the life and work of Brent Nicholson Earle.” The show ran for one weekend, and Consilvio directed it.

Earle turned down one attempt at a feature film about his life, in which Bette Midler would play his mother. The proposal took some liberties with the story and made it too “Hollywood” — and eventually, he didn’t get a good feeling about it. “He is very strong-willed and didn’t want just anyone telling his story,” Consilvio says. “Now that he is feeling more at the end of his life he is more open to it being told.”

Earle, who is now 72, realized in 1989 that he, too, was HIV positive. He was not surprised, since his ex-partner had been sick for a while. “It was a shoe that he was waiting to drop,” says the director.

Consilvio has always considered herself a performer and remembers wearing a director’s hat of sorts, even as a grade schooler at recesses. After moving to New York for theater and dance, she made her first film in 2004 and was hired in 2009 to make tribute videos for the NEA. Along with her husband Alex Charner, she is a co-founder of Hup! Productions and served as the executive producer and co-story writer of the 2019 horror-comedy feature film “Camp Wedding.” An opera singer and director to boot, she has worked regionally across the country — including an upcoming gig with The Atlanta Opera — and has a few other projects on tap.

She started working on “For the Love of Friends” in 2019, and after a few years, locked it for a festival run, only to have to return and cut nine minutes for its public television bow.

During the pandemic, she and Charner thought about moving. The timing seemed right, so the two relocated to Avondale Estates in December 2020. “We had visited a lot of places. We have family here and love the vitality, the food, the film industry. People are excited about the work. It feels different from Los Angeles and New York; it has its own vibe.” She is looking forward to collaborating with other area artists.

Consilvio stays in touch with Earle frequently and says his health is not great. He’s been bed-ridden the last few weeks. Nonetheless, he’s doing what he can to promote the film’s launch and, in true form, is actively planning an event for World AIDS Day. “He had devoted his life to activism,” she says. “No matter what is going on with Brent, he will never stop.”


Jim Farmer covers theater and film for ArtsATL. A graduate of the University of Georgia, he has written about the arts for 30-plus years. Jim is the festival director of Out on Film, Atlanta’s LGBTQ film festival. He lives in Avondale Estates with his husband, Craig, and dog, Douglas.

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL


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