top of page
phoenix tattoo back piece bob bowers hiv aids documentary the fire within

the fire within

The Fire Within is a compelling feature-length documentary film chronicling a year in the life of long-term AIDS survivor Bob Bowers. Bob was infected in 1983 at the age of 20 due to a one-time decision to share a needle. He met Shawn in 1990 and in spite of his disease they married six months later. The film was shot in 2000 and features Shawns participation in a 7-day, 575-mile bike ride as she tries, in some measure, to replicate Bobs everyday battles and victories. Gritty, raw and very real, The Fire Within is not only a movie about surviving AIDS; this is a movie about thriving regardless of the circumstances. The film parallels the struggles, challenges, and fortitude of two incredibly passionate, inspiring and vibrant souls.

Ken Karagozian photo of Bob Bowers The FIre Within.JPG

The Fire Within is a moving story of courage, passion for Life, and the healing use of choice.

--Gary Zukav, author of Seat of the Soul, Soul Stories, and the Dancing Wu Li Masters 

Click here to watch
The Fire Within documentary on
Amazon Prime Video

"I watched this documentary one evening by myself. I was always one of those people that did not want to get into drugs and alcohol. I was always the safe one. When HIV/AIDS started popping up everywhere, I did my own research. This movie is like living Bob Bowers life. Watching him live his life with HIV and be able to love at the same time. His wife is amazing. She helps him keep his chin high through all of this and gives him hope. This is a true documentary. I honestly wish that schools would show this movie to kids in MS/HS. It definitely gave me a new vision of the life."  ~ as reviewed on Amazon Prime

bob bowers hiv aids documentary The Fire Within film movie

"A MUST SEE. This film is a powerful parallel of life’s struggles. It is a mix of life, learning, laughter and love. Bob is a true fighter dealing with HIV and it’s day to day struggles while his partner Shawn is challenging herself to ride the California AIDS ride. This movie truely teaches us tomorrow is not promised to anyone and everyday is a gift."  ~ as reviewed on Amazon Prime

About the Director

When I set out to make The Fire Within in 1999, the concept behind the piece was life in the face of death. What does that razors edge look like and how does that transform ones perception of the world? When Bob was diagnosed with what was then ARC in 1983 he was presented with the sharpest, most profound edge of being in the human experience: life in the face of death. So with HIV/AIDS as the backdrop, The Fire Within, has always been more then a documentary about surviving HIV/AIDS, it is a documentary about thriving regardless of your circumstances. Throughout our lives we are all faced with challenges and edges; it is how we perceive those challenges that creates our reality and the vitality with which we participate in our everyday experience. The miracle of our life is truly in our perception of it. To choose life among all the vicissitudes of the everyday to really live it and perceive it with as much clarity as possible it is about mental hygiene as much as anything else. How clearly can I perceive the challenges and circumstances of my life story and within that framework how vibrantly can I live? Can I thrive? Can my heart remain open? Can I get up and face whatever arises this day, both pleasure and pain, with equanimity? Shortly after I met Bob I realized he was the perfect person to carry this message because it is truly the way that he lives his life.

Leanne Whitney Director, The Fire Within

Bob Bowers Harley Davidson The Fire Within HIV AIDS documentaries films movies

If you think life is tough, you have not seen this film. Give yourself a reality check and find out what daily life is like for someone who has had HIV for 16 years (by the way...I think Bob is at 23+ years now and going strong!!). Bob's story is inspiring, I have seen the movie 3 times now and every time I watch it, I am amazed at his strength and courage. Bob shares every part of his life in this movie and despite all the pain, he manages to live life to its fullest and continues to give back by speaking at schools and teaching people what they need to know about HIV. You can't help loving Bob by the end of this movie, he is truly a hero!

~As reviewed on

Mr Bowers. I have recently viewed your documentary film, "The Fire Within". I was moved beyond words. I met you about 5 years ago at San Diego State University and was challenged and humbled by your life. I live my life in the moment and often your powerful existence reminds me not to sweat the small stuff. Thank you for all of your work and guidance. You are truly my inspiration.

bob bowers the fire within hiv aids documentary films movies
Photo of Bob Bowers by Ken Karagozian

"You’re so hard on yourself. But remember, everybody has a chapter they don’t read out loud. Take a moment. Sit back. Marvel at your life; at the mistakes that gave you wisdom, at the suffering that gave you strength. Despite everything, you still move forward, be proud of this. Continue to endure. Continue to persevere. And remember, no matter how dark it gets, the sun will rise again."

~ Unknown

Stay tuned for the next documentary on the life of Bob Bowers!

The Fire Within

Reviewed by Chael Needle

Directed by Leanne Whitney
August Moon Entertainment

Premiering on The Documentary Channel on June 6, The Fire Within is a frank and intimate look at two people who love and care for each other: one positive, one negative, both resilient.

The film, first released eight years ago, follows Bob Bowers [A&U, May 2009], an AIDS educator and activist, as he struggles to find a new combination therapy. His virus is drug-resistant and, as physician Dr. Bisher Akil tells him, he is down to two treatment options. The toll of the side effects, Bob says, has been emotional, spiritual, and physical. Before settling on the couch for the first interview, he vomits and washes up. Vomits again. “Welcome to my world,” he says. Later, Bob details the body aches, diarrhea, myalgia, and the neuropathy that forces him to use a wheelchair. The new combo that he eventually chooses, Sustiva, is causing mental strain; for a while, he sleeps with a gun close at hand.

The director also shows how managing HIV can be a “full-time job,” as Bob calls it. It’s not just taking twenty-four pills a day, as Bob does, or the tax on the body; it’s the work of weighing choices and making decisions; the work of soul-searching; and the work of nurturing a relationship where the other person often acts as a caregiver.

That person is Shawn, his wife at the time, who fell in love and married knowing that she was getting into a “relationship with Bob and HIV.” She was attracted to Bob’s vivaciousness and boyishness; his joie de vivre awakened what had been dead in her and energized her to work through her own “shit,” as she tells it. The film follows her as she participates in the seven-day AIDS/LifeCycle Ride, which is a San Francisco to Los Angeles cycling fundraiser. (The premiere coincides with the start day of this year’s AIDS/LifeCycle.) Though not an endurance athlete, Shawn wants to experience a “hint” of what her husband goes through. Bob works as crew in order to support her. Some days go somewhat well; some not-so-well. Shawn begins to doubt what accomplishing this goal actually means.

By the end, Bob wonders if he should switch to a salvage therapy; Shawn wonders if she should keep riding. Decisions are made, and, as always, Shawn and Bob articulate their thoughts and feelings with the clarity that comes with honest reflection. The director has captured something about resilience—it’s not particularly pretty; it’s not particularly transcendent. Resilience is a day-in, day-out struggle—its beauty comes from confronting the fact that life can sometimes get ugly and wear you down.

The Fire Within is now available on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

netflix-dvd-the fire within documentary bob bowers.jpg

The Fire Within

From Director, Leanne Whitney:

The Fire Within (2002), a feature-length documentary I directed on the subject of life in the face of death—told through the experiences of a man grappling with what used to be a terminal illness—and what remains a leading cause of death for 25-44 year olds—AIDS. The film chronicles a year in Bob Bowers life alongside his wife Shawn's participation in a 575-mile bike ride, as she tries, in some measure, to replicate Bob’s everyday battles and his everyday victories. This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and is available for DVD rental through Netflix. If you are living through a severe illness, or in close relation to someone who is, or if you are deeply affected by these anxious times and the coronavirus pandemic, The Fire Within takes an unflinching look at the razors edge of life and death and how it can transform our perception of the world.

The Fire Within Director, Leanne Whitney, discusses the documentary on Doc Talk
The Fire Within Documentary HIV AIDS DVD cover films movies

"Graphic, at times, but always honest. Times have changed in so many ways for people living with HIV. But this documentary is still as relevant now as it was in 2001 when it was made. A love story at its core for this generation to see what it was like for those who paved the way."  ~ as reviewed on Amazon Prime

hiv aids documentaries the fire with bob bowers long term survivor films movies

"An incredible story that inspires and documents the real struggle of what it really means to live with HIV."  ~ as reviewed on Amazon Prime

"This movie was a real life view into what a person, with HIV, and those closest to them, go through daily. The mental and physical toll in the process of fighting this disease can be difficult in many ways. It is a story which is important because there are so many good people out there struggling to maintain their dignity and quality of life. Some people isolate themselves and feel quite alone. The best thing about this film is that it shows those people they are not alone, and that they can have pride in their fight against this disease."  ~ as reviewed on Amazon Prime

"Amazing film! It was heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once. It's really hopeful to see someone struggle through so much in the end come out on top. I loved the realness and the openness with which the directed showed their lives and all its ups and downs. I felt inspired. I loved it."  ~ as reviewed on Amazon Prime

bottom of page