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How to Survive a Plague

Movie Details

How to Survive a Plague
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Date: 2012-09-21 NY
  • Running Time: 109 min.
  • Director: David France
  • Cast: Peter Staley, Garance Franke-Ruta, Mark Harrington, Spencer Cox, Larry Kramer, Bill Bahlman, David Barr, Gregg Bordowitz, Gregg Gonsalves, Derek Link
  • Producers: Howard Gertler, David France, Joy Tomchin, Dan Cogan
  • Writers: David France, T. Woody Richman, Tyler H. Walk
  • Distributor: Sundance Selects
  • Official Site: How to Survive a Plague Official Site

In his filmmaking debut, journalist David France, who wrote the first story about ACT UP for The Village Voice, assembles a thoroughly reported chronicle of that direct-action advocacy group's most vital era, from its founding in 1987 (six years into the AIDS epidemic) through 1995. Expertly compiled from hundreds of hours of archival footage-- depicting fractious meetings, infamous demonstrations like 1989's die-in at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and hospital visits with the gravely ill-- France captures the fury and commitment of ACT UP to target those in power who did nothing to stop the disease. Present-day interviews with members who in 1987 doubted they'd live to see their 30th birthday deepen the film's impact as an essential document of queer--and New York City--history. How to Survive a Plague is a compilation of first-person remembrances, a time-toggling polyphony emphasizing both individual struggles and collective action-- the we of me. His subjects reflect back not only on the group's insurrections at the FDA, the NIH, the White House, and pharmaceutical-company headquarters, but also on their much-younger selves. Yet France is always careful not to confuse "tribute" with "nostalgia." He includes electrifying footage of Larry Kramer erupting during a meeting after a prolonged exchange between unseen, nasty cavilers: "Plague! We're in the middle of a fucking plague, and you behave like this! ACT UP has been taken over by a lunatic fringe!" Two decades after this incident, Kramer makes another stirring claim: "Every single [treatment] drug that's out there is because of ACT UP, I am convinced. It is the proudest achievement that the gay population of this world can ever claim."

Melissa Anderson

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