How to Survive a Plague (2013)

November 2nd, 2013
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: David France        Writers: David France, T Woody Richman, Tyler Walk

110min  US Documentary

You may be wondering why a documentary on AIDS should suddenly be newsworthy. The reason is that  AIDS campaigner and debut director, David France’s moving HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE has the benefit of hindsight reflecting, as it does, on thirties years of suffering since the crisis originally hit the international headlines with the news that AIDS posed a potential death sentence on every sufferer.

At that time there was scant medical research on the disease and  hardly any treatments available. Furthermore, no US Government prevention scheme was in place to protect the public.  Then gradually a groundswell of those affected harnessed their resentment and rose up to form Act-Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). They retaliated against the system with specialised ad campaigns lambasting public figures from the New York Mayor (Koch) to religious leaders such as the Catholic head of Church, Cardinal O’Connor.

David France’s film makes grim viewing not only because of its subject matter but also due to an almost exclusive use of grainy archive footage showing how the New York gay community formed Act-Up and charting how it campaigned against the indifference and negativity of the powers that be, and, in particularly, the hostile administration of Ronald Reagan.  But as a documentary it is informative and well-put-together, wielding considerable clout in conveying the message largely through its use of the belligerent army of sufferers themselves who speak with anger and conviction (that is more convincing and heartfelt than any potential actor), and who were eventually able to change government policy regarding medical research so that by the mid nineties remedial care finally started to make an impact on this terrible epidemic. HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE is a worthwhile and immersive guide to the history of AIDS activism. MT



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