How to Survive a Plague Reviews
Coupled with "We were here" it gives a broad wiev of what was happening in those times.
ACT UP - FIGHT BACK - FIGHT AIDS
How to Survive a Plague is about the fight to get drugs on the market more quickly as mass casualties turned AIDS into a pandemic from 1987 to 1996. The film focuses on the efforts of an underground NY group called ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), which contained many homosexuals, but also some activists and doctors supporting their fight. Told mostly in footage they themselves took, we get to see their effective use of the media as they hold several nonviolent protests or debate issues with important players in the AIDS game. We see how some members of the group become highly educated on their disease and create TAG (treatment action group) that partners with the FDA doctors to research a cure. As TAG becomes closer with the FDA, ACT UP starts to mistrust the group since they are far away from the front lines. Along with the internal struggles and FDA fight, we get other fights from George Bush, Bill Clinton, Jesse Helms, Ed Koch, St. Patrick's Church, and other people who feel the need to comment on the "behavior" of the community.
Where did they store all this footage? ACT UP was well ahead of its time recording all of its doings, inside and out, on camera. Like Ghandi and King before them, ACT UP used nonviolent and pointed protests which they filmed themselves alongside the media, thus controlling how their message got across. In addition, we learn just how well verse the group was in learning about the various cures that became available. Like any good documentary, the end goal grows from a simple search for an AIDS treatment into a study of how to band together to accomplish a political goal. Using knowledge, publicity, and education as the backbone, a two-pronged attack with boots on the ground and using institutions already in place succeeded in finding a successful treatment for AIDS. How To Survive A Plague is wonderful at showing the evolving struggles of accomplishing a goal through government/political means.
What elevates How to Survive a Plague over a normal documentary is the various storytelling methods that keep the movie consistently interesting. For the mystery lover, the movie keeps hidden who dies and who lives among the principals until the end. For the dramatics, the protests carry lots of thrills and leave you on the edge of your seat plus the potential ACT UP schism becomes a very terrifying possibility midway though. For the comedian, there is a very humorous use of condoms and a house. Credit director David France for successfully editing the story to fit into a very linear narrative, using the subplots to build upon one another until the AIDS treatment is discovered.
Mark Harrington. Peter Staley. Bob Rafsky. Ann Northrup. These names deserve to be remembered alongside some of the other great social activists like Martin Luther King Jr. or Jane Addams. Their ceaseless effort and pragmatic approach is on display in How to Survive a Plague, a wonderful documentary successfully weaving together numerous topics like gay rights, the AIDS epidemic, the political process, the FDA, and religion. I hope one day down the line that these brave pioneers get some sort of holiday-type recognition for the changes and results they achieved.