Milestone Films

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt


Preserved by the Academy Film Archive, Milestone Film & Video and the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project, a partnership between Outfest and UCLA Film & Television Archive.

1989 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature
Interfilm Award at the 1990 Berlin International Film Festival
GLAAD Media Award Outstanding TV Documentary 1990
Peabody Award 1990

“History will record that in the last quarter of the 20th century a new and deadly virus emerged and that the one nation on earth with the resources, knowledge, and institutions to respond to the epidemic failed to do so. History will further record that our nation’s failure was based on ignorance, prejudice, greed and fear not in the heartlands of America but within the oval office and the halls of Congress.” — Cleve Jones, The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt

A tremendous, handmade monument to lives lost to AIDS, the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt demonstrated that grief and activism together could manifest a powerful symbol of resilience. Winner of the 1989 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, this moving film explores the human stories obscured by statistics, examining the cross-section of identities affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as efforts to combat the stigma, misinformation, and political obstruction that deepened the crisis.

The AIDS Quilt was started by a group of volunteers called the NAMES Project in a San Francisco storefront in July 1987. By the spring of 1988, the Quilt had grown to include 3,000 panels, each a handmade memorial to an AIDS victim. Producer Bill Couturie saw the proposed documentary as “a way to make a film that would be both hard-hitting and affecting… I thought from the start the film itself should be a patchwork quilt. America is a patchwork quilt. People with AIDS are a patchwork quilt. The virus is indiscriminate. So people who otherwise would never have been connected are bound together.”

In a case of parallel evolution, filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman had felt similarly moved when they saw the Quilt displayed for the first time in Washington in October 1987. “Up to that point,” Epstein said, “nobody had seen the Quilt in its entirety, and the effect was, needless to say, awesome. We were there at dawn and we were standing around this huge canvas grid, and the names of the dead were being read. And by the time the Quilt was fully unfolded several hours later there was something before you that was so beautiful and yet so horrifying. Entering this Quilt, entering this weave of lives, interacting with the other people there, made you feel the weight of this epidemic. We were just stunned and awed by the scale of the Quilt and the intimacy of it.” Epstein recalls, “I’d never seen anything like that. We were with our friend [and fellow filmmaker] Peter Adair and he said, ‘Somebody has to make a film about this.’ Jeffrey and I ran with that and ran back to San Francisco and met with the NAMES Project folks and started delving into all the material.”

The Quilt that Epstein and Friedman saw in Washington, DC in 1987 was composed of 1,920 panels. When the pair filmed its unfolding in October 1988 for Common Threads, the AIDS Quilt had grown to 8,288 individual handmade panels. The documentary won the Oscar® for Best Documentary, but more importantly, has remained an emotional, vibrant story of a tremendous tragedy that evolved into one of the great protest movements in American history.

United States. 1989. 79 minutes. 16mm. Color. In English. Winner: 1989Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Interfilm Award at the 1990 Berlin International Film Festival. GLAAD Media Award Outstanding TV Documentary 1990. Peabody Award 1990. A Telling Pictures and The Couturie Company Production. Directed and Edited by Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Produced by Bill Couturie, Robert Epstein, and Jeffrey Friedman. Directors of Photography: Dyanna Taylor and Jean de Segonzac. Additional Cinematography: Edward Lachman. Narrated by Dustin Hoffman. Music composed by Bobby McFerrin. Music performed by Bobby McFerrin and Voicestra. Writers: Robert Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, and Cindy Ruskin

 An Explanation of Home, Classroom, and Public Performance Rights

Individuals and non-profit institutions purchasing at the DVD, DVD-R, or Blu-ray rate — or streaming at published rental and sales prices — are authorized to use the film only for private home screening and legitimate classroom showing (a regularly scheduled class with an instructor present), per the United States Copyright Law. You can learn more about the distinction between classroom and public performance screenings here.


US and Canadian nonprofit educational institutions that wish to show a film publicly outside of a scheduled class need to purchase DVDs, DVD-Rs, and Blu-rays at the institutional rate — which grants 3-year in-house streaming rights and an on-site public performance license. This in-house streaming license is for a term of three years from the date of purchase and grants the purchasing institution the right to stream over a single secure server with a password-protected connection. Streaming access must be strictly limited to currently enrolled students, faculty, and staff. Streaming rights extensions can be negotiated with Milestone after the initial three-year term has lapsed. Milestone retains the right to terminate this agreement at any time. No broadcast, Internet or other rights are granted or implied. These rights are for on-site use only per the license agreement. 

Similarly, US and Canadian nonprofit educational institutions that wish to show a film publicly outside of a scheduled class via Milestone’s streaming site must contact Milestone to arrange a separate public performance license. For more information, please email 

US and Canadian nonprofit educational institutions that wish to screen a DVD, DVD-R, or Blu-ray they already own in an open showing must purchase a public performance license. For more information, please email 

The purchase of DVDs, DVD-Rs, and Blu-rays at the institutional rate by anyone outside of a North American non-profit educational institution does not grant rights for public performance or streaming.

Any continuous or loop screenings as part of a museum exhibition must also be licensed separately. Inquiries must be negotiated directly with Milestone by emailing

Information for Exhibitors Screening DCPs and Film Prints

All bookings must be made by phone or email correspondence with Amy Heller (201.767.3117 or to negotiate terms and insure a screening copy is available. An order is only finalized when Milestone sends a written confirmation.

DCPs are shipped insured for their cost via Federal Express or UPS and must be returned the same way or by an equivalent method. Shipping and handling charges for outgoing DCPs appear on your invoice. The immediate return or transshipment (as directed) of all DCPs is your responsibility.

DCPs should be returned to:

Milestone Film & Video
38 George Street
Harrington Park, New Jersey 07640-0128
United States 

35mm and 16mm prints are shipped insured for their cost via Federal Express or UPS and must be returned the same way or by an equivalent method. Please do not ship prints back via US Mail. Exhibitor pays to ship both ways. Shipping and handling charges for outgoing prints appear on your invoice. The immediate return of all prints is your responsibility.

Prints should be returned insured for $1,000 to:

Iron Mountain
Attn: Milestone Account
235 Main Street
Little Falls, NJ 07424

For public screenings, advertising materials can be requested by contacting

Milestone is the exclusive licensor for all the titles in this catalog, all of which are available here in their complete versions.


Or you might like...

Recently viewed