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How to Survive a Plague (2012)

Not Rated  |   |  Documentary, History, News  |  8 November 2013 (UK)
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Ratings: 7.6/10 from 2,700 users   Metascore: 86/100
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The story of two coalitions -- ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) -- whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.



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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 18 wins & 10 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Himself (archive footage)
David Barr ...
Bob Rafsky ...
Himself (archive footage)
Jim Eigo ...
Ann Northrop ...
Gregg Bordowitz ...
Bill Bahlman ...
Spencer Cox ...
Barbara Starrett ...
Iris Long ...
Herself (archive footage)
Franke-Ruta Garance ...
Herself (as Garance Franke-Ruta)
Mark Harrington ...
Jesse Helms ...
Himself (archive footage)


In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, the disease was considered a death sentence affecting communities, like the LGBT ones, whom many in power felt deserved it. This film tells the story of how militant activists like ACT-UP and TAG pushed for a meaningful response to this serious public health problem. As the activists struggled against political indifference, religious hostility, corporate greed and apparently skewed scientific research priorities with determination and sheer audacity, they produced a political wave that would lead to not only an effective treatment regime, but would advance LGBT rights beyond anyone's expectations. Written by Kenneth Chisholm (

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

8 November 2013 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

AIDS-pioneerit  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$28,250 (USA) (21 September 2012)


$122,665 (USA) (9 November 2012)

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Did You Know?


Larry Kramer: Every single 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.
See more »


Featured in The Oscars (2013) See more »


Keeping Up
Performed & Arranged by 'Superhuman Happiness'
Written by Arthur Russell (as Charles Arthur Russell Jr.) ((ASCAP)
Used by Permission of Echo & Feedback Newsletter Music (ASCAP)
Administered by Bug
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User Reviews

If my rating was based solely on the people in this documentary, I'd give them all a 10 for their courage and perseverance

Seeing this title I was expecting something of an apocalyptic, end-of- the-world zombie type film. In fact, this documentary was far truer, exploring a disease which has cost many lives. One might say I have an interest in LGBT causes and maybe this is why I decided to see this documentary, but AIDS is not exclusive to any community.

This documentary starts in the early 80's in New York where young men and women are dying of AIDS. There is no treatment and they are even refused in the hospitals. Each with their individual pain couldn't do much so they organized and created "ACT UP" whose main focus was to be an activist group, which through civil disobedience would bring attention, awareness, and most importantly a cure to AIDS. The documentary retraces some of their fights and quarrels mostly through archives but also with some more recent interviews. It covers some of the darkest hours before the discovery of the lucky combination that would prolong the lives of many, but would come too late to save those of many more.

I think the topic is one of the most important there is. It feels so distant but I can actually remember hearing about a treatment to AIDS back then. It meant very little to me at the time. I can't say that I really loved the way the documentary was going about things but I liked the substance very much. It is very scary to think back and imagine those people taking whatever medication that was on trial simply because at that point it couldn't have done more harm.

While I think activism is double-edged blade and can sometimes backfire, it seems that this very activism has saved many lives and the alerted politicians who at first refused to talk about how many lives AIDS had taken. There are some very emotional personal stories here, and if my rating was based solely on the people in this documentary, I'd give them all a 10 for their courage and perseverance through this tremendous pain.

I liked: The topic. Historically important.

I disliked: The shaky archive footage, the constant shouting and confrontations. It had only one sequence to explain the actual biological/chemical aspects, which I felt were important and deserved more screen time.

74/100 A little over 20 years ago, there were presidents who would go on television and say that AIDS has behavioral causes that should be looked at. This documentary could definitely teach them a thing or two.

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