Julian Shaw was just 15 when an unexpected encounter with a legendary comic and AIDS activist changed his life.

My mother-in-law, who is South African, said, -˜You have to come and see this show,’ Shaw recalls of the night five years ago when he saw South African satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys perform at the Sydney Opera House.

I had plans so I had to cancel them at her insistence. I’m really glad I did. You don’t want to talk about those moments of epiphany too much, but it was exactly that.

I didn’t know the extent of the HIV epidemic in South Africa or the human side of it. What was so amazing was that Pieter was talking about it in such a humane way.

I just had to make a documentary about this guy.

When Uys returned to Sydney for more performances about six months later, Shaw seized his chance.

Then 16, he approached Uys with the documentary proposal -“ and was accepted.

Over the next four years, Shaw travelled to South Africa several times to get under the skin of one of the country’s most prominent entertainers.

Pieter’s got this incredibly complex history, Shaw says.

He comes from a Jewish and German family and there’s Afrikaner as well. One of his great one-liners is that he belongs to both chosen people.

Also he grew up gay in Calvinist South Africa. His dad was a censor and Pieter was the most outspoken, venomous opponent of apartheid.

Profiling Uys as he promoted AIDS awareness meant meeting some of South Africa’s most famous faces.

I think the best sequence in the film is of Pieter doing his impersonation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in front of Tutu, Shaw, now 20, says.

Cracking up is an understatement. Tutu just loses the plot.

Filming Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story was also a sobering encounter with what Shaw calls the overwhelming HIV epidemic in South Africa. An estimated 5.5 million South Africans have the virus.

As Shaw prepares for the screening of his documentary on Foxtel on World AIDS Day, he is optimistic Uys and his AIDS activism will win more fans here.

I just want the most people possible to hear Pieter’s message, Shaw says.

There’s nothing funny about the epidemic, but, as he says, what’s hilarious is the fear people have and it’s about really confronting fear.

Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story screens on Friday 1 December at 8:30pm on The Biography Channel on Foxtel.

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