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The Story of Dr. James Oleske








Don Quixote in Newark tells the inspiring story of James Oleske, the New Jersey pediatrician who identified HIV/AIDS in children. His scientific breakthrough, the outcome of dedicated work in an underfunded community hospital, changed the profile of AIDS forever and was instrumental in the discovery of the HIV virus. At the same time, his remarkable work spearheaded new forms of patient care and led to treatments still in use today.

It was in the early nineteen eighties that James Oleske, an untried pediatric immunologist at Newark’s St. Michael’s Hospital, made the startling observation that his young patients were showing signs of the new and unknown syndrome recently discovered in gay men and drug users. Yet every established authority in the field told him that it was medically impossible. His mentor thought he was crazy; the press labeled him an alarmist.  Oleske refused to back down.

Struggling to cope with a mounting medical crisis in his New Jersey community, Oleske and his team persisted in painstaking frontline research. They would soon publish the first article on the disease that was ultimately called HIV/AIDS in children.  In time he would build the first major Pediatric AIDS program in the country and became an important player in the conquest of pediatric HIV/AIDS in America. 

Medical brilliance alone cannot account for Oleske’s breakthrough.  Throughout his life he had pushed the envelope, exhibiting a rebellious streak that often put him at odds with established practices and authority figures essential to his own advancement.  Like Don Quixote, the hero of his favorite novel, Oleske often fought for seemingly lost causes in which he believed, often at the risk of his own career.  As Sancho Panza points out to Don Quixote, “if the pitcher hits the stone or the stone hits the pitcher, it’s bad for the pitcher.”

This documentary is the story of a visionary pediatrician who refused to follow the path of least resistance.  Juxtaposing the dramatic events of Oleske’s exploration of pediatric AIDS with scenes from his work today in that same underserved community hospital, this film will highlight the multifaceted rewards of a life dedicated to public service and the necessary role such service plays in the advancement of medicine.

Don Quixote in Newark will be the first major documentary about the discovery and eradication of pediatric HIV/AIDS in America. As such it will explore:


  • Oleske’s breakthrough realization that asymptomatic mothers were transmitting the disease and his publication of the first article identifying what would become known as AIDS in children.

  • Oleske’s development of family-centered care in Newark and his collaboration with the Newark Community leading to the standard international model for pediatric AIDS care.  

  • Oleske’s collaboration with researcher Robert Gallo in the isolation and identification of the virus.

  • How Oleske's lab work played a key role in the development of the first test of HIV/AIDS by Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier.   

  • Oleske’s development of the drug protocol stopping mother to child transmission that led to the   eradication of pediatric HIV/AIDS in the United States.

A number of recent films, like the Oscar-winning documentary,  Surviving a Plague have told the history of the adult gay epidemic. But the story of childhood HIV/AIDs largely confined to poor and minority children is being overlooked once again as it was in the days of the epidemic itself.  


Oleske’s entire life has been dedicated to working inside the largely poor and minority community of Newark. Despite the lack of funds he — along with the women of Newark — fought valiantly against the ravages the disease brought to their already hurting community. 


In the end Oleske could not be ignored and he became a national leader. Along the way, he encountered a miracle in the form of a Swiss countess who aided his program, when no one else would, by selling her jewels!


This story is about finding light at the end of a forbiddingly long and dark tunnel.  It is a story of death and powerful redemption. 

"While there have been recent films on the history of the adult epidemic, the equally important history of the childhood epidemic, largely affecting poor and minority children, has yet to be chronicled. This film can bring this story to light once again and rectify this glaring omission."
     -- Robert Gallo, MD  
       co-discoverer of the AIDS virus
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Through generous grants from the Ford Foundation and the Achelis and Bodman Foundation, we have completed shooting and production for the film. We are now in the editing room. Funds are now needed to complete the post-production process and finish the film. 


We are now working to raise $200,000 to complete the film. All donations are deeply appreciated and are tax deductible! 

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New York, NY 10025

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Joseph Dorman

(Producer, Director)


Joseph Dorman, the founder of Riverside Films, is the winner of television’s prestigious, George Foster Peabody Award for excellence. His latest film MOYNIHAN on the life and career of statesman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was theatrically released in October 2018.    


In 2015 he released the film Colliding Dreams, a history of the Zionist idea and the controversies surrounding it. The Nation wrote that the film is ‘as good a feature-length history of Zionism as we’re likely to get: judicious, sophisticated, attentive to a range of viewpoints..." and the Los Angeles Times called it  “compelling and Engrossing. A film of ideas, a film of history.”Mr. Dorman wrote and directed the critically acclaimed theatrically released documentary, Arguing the World about the controversial sixty-year political journey of the eminent political writers and thinkers, Daniel Bell, Irving Howe, Irving Kristol and Nathan Glazer.  The New York Times described it as “enthralling…  one of the deepest portraits of… of ideas ever filmed,” and The New Yorker raved “Superb.”  It was named one of the best films of 1998 by The New York Times, and New York Magazine.


 His film, the award-winning Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness (2011), was called “compelling” and “wonderfully rich.” It was one of the top grossing documentaries of 2011, playing across the country.  Mr. Dorman co-wrote the script of the documentary blockbuster, The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Journey, which was named the best documentary of 2001 by the National Board of Review and described by film critic Andrew Sarris as “extraordinary.”  He also wrote the theatrically released documentary Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry. He was a senior producer for the prime time PBS newsmagazine series on the news media, Media Matters hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alex Jones, has produced numerous films on the developing world for PBS, Discovery and the United Nations and was a producer for the PBS series The Eleventh Hour.


Mr. Dorman also writes for The New York Times Book Review and other publications. His books include Arguing the World: The New York Intellectuals in their Own Words (2001) and When Ideas Mattered, The Nathan Glazer Reader(2016), which he co-edited and for which he wrote the introduction.  In 1999 he was invited along with playwright Arthur Miller and director Joan Micklin Silver to give one of Harvard University’s annual William E. Massey Sr. Lecture in the history of American Civilization. He currently teaches history of documentary at New York University.