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How to Survive a Plague (2012)

Not Rated | | Documentary, History, News | 8 November 2013 (UK)
2:18 | Trailer

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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.



, (as T. Woody Richman) | 1 more credit »
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 13 wins & 19 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 (kchishol@rogers.com)

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 USA:

$28,250, 23 September 2012, Limited Release

Gross USA:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


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Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Jesse Helms: They can speak as long as they don't offend anybody else, I suppose.
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Featured in The Oscars (2013) See more »


Performed by Riceboy Sleeps
Words and Music by Jon Thor Birgisson and Alex Somers (as Alex Kendall Somers)
Universal-Polygram International Publishing Inc.
On Behalf of Universal Music Publishing Ltd. (BMI)
Licensed Courtesy of WL Recordings
By Arragement with Beggars Group Media Limited
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User Reviews

Not a Zombie Movie!
10 January 2013 | by See all my reviews

By using (mostly) never before seen archival footage, David France's unflinching documentary "How to Survive a Plague" DOCUMENTS the early epidemic of the AIDS virus in the United States, during a time when it was seen as a death sentence.

With a mixture of video from protests, support rallies and home movies, France portrays actual struggling AIDS victims/activists as their friends and family members begin to go blind and die around them, and the US government does little in way of assistance. France also does a great job of not only showcasing the overwhelming amount of discrimination during the 80's and 90's, which altogether ostracized anybody with AIDS or people that had any linkage to the gay communities, but succeeds in his attempts to dissect the human condition, by showing how far a determined group of people are willing to go for change.

The rest of the footage, which shows government officials such as former Senator Jesse Helms, former President Ronald Regan and former President George Bush Sr. is maybe the most shocking aspect of this film; as they come off as negligent and at times so blatantly prejudiced, that it's disturbing to think how everything depicted here took place only between 20 and 30 years ago.

Beginning in New York with the denial of the AIDS epidemic by former New York Mayor Ed Kotch, to the introduction of the highly toxic drug AZT (the most expensive drug on the market at the time, and the only one used to prolong the life of AIDS patients) to the Roman Catholic Church condemning the use of condoms, and ending with the evolution of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) a group of activists (most of whom had the AIDS virus themselves) who revolutionized the way AIDS was treated, turning it into a manageable condition; the importance of this film lies in its documentation of a disenfranchised people during a time in American history that isn't broached in the classroom. But equally as interesting as the subject matter, is how creatively this documentary is put together. This archival footage format is truly an ingenious way to tell a narrative, really working on an almost purely visceral level to capture the times and atmosphere of a real life American revolution, in a way not many documentaries have the ability to do.

Final Thought: "How to Survive A Plague" is not only an informative, fascinating, and sure to be award winning film, but also one of the most powerful documentaries of 2012. There's not much more I can say about this documentary, other than that actually sitting down and witnessing what this film has to say, for yourself will undoubtedly create a deeper impact and elicit more of an emotional response than any mere words can say.

Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland

Follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus

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