FILM: “How To Survive a Plague” at SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival

Documentary / SILVERDOCS / June 28, 2012

Act Up, Fight Back, Fight AIDS! – and though the fight isn’t over, gay and social justice activists have succeeded in turning AIDS from a sure death sentence to a manageable condition. Their story is one of unimaginable odds, frightening mortality, innovation and sheer will power.

Director/Producer David France’s film, “How To Survive A Plague,” tells the story of two coalitions: ACT UP & TAG (Treatment Action Group).  AIDS patients, family members and friends—despite having no scientific training, infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time. They realized early on that they would have to save themselves and that no one else would do it for them. This daunting and hurtful realization, as a result of virulent homophobia, ended up galvanizing the community and bringing power to the people.

The story is told through tons of archival footage of meetings, hearings, protests and parties. Spliced with modern day interviews of movement leaders and survivors, there’s a nice contrast between the desperate intensity of 1987-1996 compared to the relaxed contentment of having a long life in the 21st century.

The drugs they pushed into existence, now known as “combination therapy,” are so overwhelmingly successful that the effects of treatment are now known as the “Lazarus Effect.”  They’ve saved people on the brink of death in just a matter of days, and have saved over 6 million lives worldwide.

Although their courage is inspirational, the long, borderline boring, uninterrupted stretches of archival footage without narration went on much too long.

Grade: B

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Emily Achler

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