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How to Survive a Plague (2012)

Not Rated  |   |  Documentary, History, News  |  8 November 2013 (UK)
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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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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.
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Featured in The Oscars (2013) See more »


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User Reviews

In some cases, words and actions can save a million lives
20 March 2013 | by (Ontario, Canada) – See all my reviews

"How to Survive a Plague" takes real footage from the 1980s and 90s fight for health among the homosexual community and allows us to accurately re-live the tragedy of the rise of AIDS worldwide and the political incompetence to do anything about it. Part of the excellence of this documentary is allowing the actual events to speak for themselves. These activists had the foresight to record their conversations and protests, and these filmmakers had to foresight to know how to edit it to leave the power in the hands of those fighting.

AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was formed in New York in 1987. Establishing Larry Kramer as its spokesperson was one of the many smart moves this advocacy group made. He's well-spoken and he knows his facts. Approximately half-way through the film, Larry stands up and delivers a speech so Earth-shatteringly accurate, simple and poignant that the entire audience in the room and the entire audience for the film are left speechless.

There are times during this fight where the group dissipates and internal disagreements arise, and even though a separate group formed, this community stuck together and the emergence of TAG (Treatment Action Group) just doubled their efforts and accomplishments. AIDS patient and homosexual activist Peter Staley was one of the heroes of the film and is likely a personal hero to many. At the beginning, he was young, passionate and out-spoken but he knew his facts and could beat any politician in a debate. Just because he was gay, dying of AIDS and inexperienced doesn't mean he doesn't know what needs to get done and doesn't mean he doesn't know how to do it. Although these struggles took place 20 years ago, it's still inspiring.

They fought against the Catholic Church and judging by the look on the Bishop's face, they won. They fought against the FDA, and won. They fought against the NIH, and didn't really win. They fought against President George H.W. Bush, and the result was basically pounding their head against a brick wall, but at least they made out on his golf course lawn. They fought against President Bill Clinton, and at least they learned their lesson about debating a Rhodes Scholar. More importantly, they learned that it doesn't have to be a fight, and all advocacy, political and governmental groups worked in harmony. But by this time, it was indeed a plague and survival was the only option.

The film had some fascinating facts but unfortunately they were written with a flickering green font on a grey cityscape background and were barely legible. But listen to what they have to say, and ACT UP and TAG will teach you "How to Survive a Plague".

2 of 3 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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