Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt is a 1989 American documentary film that tells the story of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.[2] Narrated by Dustin Hoffman with a musical score written and performed by Bobby McFerrin, the film focuses on several people who are represented by panels in the Quilt, combining personal reminiscences with archive footage of the subjects, along with footage of various politicians, health professionals and other people with AIDS. Each section of the film is punctuated with statistics detailing the number of Americans diagnosed with and dead of AIDS through the early years of the epidemic. The film ends with the first display of the complete (to date) Quilt at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. during the 1987 Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt
Common Threads - Stories from the Quilt (movie poster).jpg
Directed byRob Epstein
Jeffrey Friedman
Written byRob Epstein
Jeffrey Friedman
Cindy Ruskin
Produced byBill Couturié
Rob Epstein
Jeffrey Friedman
Narrated byDustin Hoffman
Edited byRob Epstein
Jeffrey Friedman
Music byBobby McFerrin
Telling Pictures
Distributed byDirect Cinema[1]
Release date
  • 1989 (1989)
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited States

The film, made for HBO, was based in part on the book The Quilt: Stories From The NAMES Project by Cindy Ruskin (writer), Matt Herron (photographs) and Deborah Zemke (design).

The film relates the lives of five people memorialized with panels:

  • Dr. Tom Waddell, founder of the Gay Games; his story is told by his friend and the mother of his child, Sara Lewinstein.
  • David Mandell Jr., a young, 12-year-old hemophiliac; his storytellers are his parents, David Mandell and Suzi Mandell.
  • Robert Perryman, an African-American man who contracted the disease through intravenous drug use; his widow, Sallie Perryman, tells his story.
  • Jeffrey Sevcik, a gay man; his story is told by his partner, film critic and historian Vito Russo,[3] who succumbed to the disease in 1990, five years after he was diagnosed.
  • David C. Campbell, a Washington, D.C. landscape architect; his storyteller is his lover, U.S. Navy commander Tracy Torrey, who then became his own storyteller as well as he succumbed to the disease and was memorialized in the course of filming.

Along with these personal stories, the film reviews the history of the NAMES Project and shows the process of creating quilt panels. It also documents the response - or perceived lack of it - to the onset of the AIDS epidemic by the Reagan administration through the use of archive footage of Reagan and members of his administration, the medical community's action in the face of the burgeoning health crisis, and the earliest attempts within the gay community to organize around the AIDS issue through the actions of such activists as self-proclaimed "KS poster boy" Bobbi Campbell, Vito Russo (co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)),[3] and Gay Men's Health Crisis and ACT UP co-founder Larry Kramer.


Common Threads won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1990.[4] This was the second Oscar for producer/director Rob Epstein.[5] He had previously won for The Times of Harvey Milk, a biography of openly gay San Francisco politician Harvey Milk. The film also won the Interfilm Award at the 1990 Berlin Film Festival, a GLAAD Media Award for Best TV Documentary,[3] and a Peabody Award.

DVD releaseEdit

Common Threads was released on Region 1 DVD on June 8, 2004. [6]


Common Threads was preserved by the Academy Film Archive, in conjunction with Milestone Films and Outfest, in 2019.[7]


Bobby McFerrin's 1990 studio album Medicine Music can easily be passed off as the soundtrack to the film, and it includes the film's theme song, "Common Threads". The album reached number 146 on the Billboard 200 and number 2 on the Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. [8]


  1. ^ Collins, Glenn (1990-02-24). "Film Makers Protest to Academy". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  2. ^ The Criterion Channel
  3. ^ a b c Kleber, Beth (December 1995). "Vito Russo Papers, 1969-1990" (PDF). Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  4. ^ 1990|
  5. ^ Documentary Winners: 1990 Oscars
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.
  8. ^ Medicine Music-Bobby McFerrin-AllMusic

External linksEdit