The documentary "5B" covers the creation of the first hospital ward for AIDS patients in San Francisco.

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After Big Debut In Cannes, '5B' Opening About AIDS Crisis In San Francisco

Jenna Lane
June 10, 2019 - 12:05 pm

The story of a pioneering group of nurses is being told on the big screen nearly 40 years after they set up the first ward for AIDS patients at San Francisco General Hospital.

The documentary "5B" will debut in theaters on June 14, weeks after receiving a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. 

"What I discovered in talking to the nurses, caregivers and volunteers is that these memories had been put away," said Oakland-based filmmaker Dan Krauss to KCBS Radio. "Just like soldiers, they compartmentalize traumatic experiences."

Krauss was just a kid in the early '80s, when AIDS began to decimate San Francisco's gay community. To help make "5B," named for Ward 5B at SF General where so many patients died, he turned to longtime KPIX-TV reporter Hank Plante.

"They wanted to someone to talk about the context of the times. What was it like outside of the hospital?" Plante said. "What was going on in terms of discrimination, the Reagan administration, people getting kicked out of their apartments, losing their jobs. Because people have forgotten what a frightening time it was, those early days of AIDS."

Plante was one of the first openly gay TV reporters in the country. When he started his career at KPIX, the AIDS crisis terrified members of San Francisco's gay community and medical professionals who did not yet understand much about the disease.  He told the story then on television, and retold parts of it for "5B" about the nurses who overcame the terror to care for the dying. 

"Before we knew how it was spread, they just showed up, went to work," Plante said. "We didn't know if it was airborne, we didn't know if you could catch it from touching surfaces, and they just did their jobs. It really is a love story, I think."

Krauss agreed that "5B" is a story about the caregivers, but adds, "It's also a story about tolerance and bigotry and the way that we can confront those, and I think that's a message that's very relevant for today."