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16 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

wonderful, bittersweet look at a movement over ten years

Author: MisterWhiplash from United States
25 September 2012

That seeming rarity: an incisive, heartfelt documentary about people doing good that is important, even today as AIDS is not the 'plague' it once was. It shows what people will do when they are pushed to a limit - it's not even about gay rights but about human rights, for proper health-care for the deathly ill. It's filmmaking that doesn't shy away from the rougher areas - when there is infighting in ACT UP, the director (first timer David France) shows it warts and all. But it's the heroism by the likes of Peter Staley and Mark Harrington that shines through the most. As Roger Ebert said, it's most emotional for the audience with a drama when seeing good people suffer, as do the people in ACT UP and in the AIDS crisis, and in doing good, against all odds.

We get the sense that they were not just fighting for themselves, though that was certainly a big component, but fighting for the millions that needed the medicine that could at least be attempted. The saddest part is seeing the trial and error over the years, where people who did take the early drugs like ATX just didn't get better like they should've. It's a bittersweet conclusion since by the time the medicine did get to the point where AIDS was at least something people could try and not, you know, kill them, so many had already passed (the ticker per-year that comes up becomes more and more shocking, albeit a lot of these numbers were from Africa). As a document of the AIDS/HIV crisis and as a pure protest movie and 'Fight the Powers That Be!' saga, it's moving, harsh, and keeps its story moving with compelling people who faced up to the fact that their fight had to be about science even before it being a social issue.

Oh, and the sort of 'reveal' you don't even expect in the last ten or so minutes... it shoots this up to being essential viewing.

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12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Utterly compelling.

Author: 086 jpm from Dublin
13 February 2013

I really don't understand how this doco only scores a 7.3. It's the most compelling piece of film I have seen in years, I was gripped from the beginning to the end. It is basically about the early fight for treatment research and recognition that HIV sufferers have a disease and were entitled to respect and humanity from the wider community as it was not a punishment from God for a so called "lifestyle choice".

It is structured by piecing together a lot of archive film that is edited so brilliantly that it like watching a scripted film that tells a great story, a film with real stars and characters. The subject matter is based on HIV but what I took away from the film is how people with such a motivation did "act up" and used democracy to achieve an objective. It is compulsive viewing for any interested in any type of campaigning.

My only criticism of the film is it did not fully explore the reason for the early antagonism toward people with the virus and why the medical establishment and governments at that time were slow to act. But in the end I seen a film about a story I did not know about, a story about successful democratic campaign that has saved millions of lives. I now think these early campaigners should have got Nobel recognition. The film is that powerful.

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13 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Extremely Well-Made

Author: Michael_Elliott from Louisville, KY
2 January 2013

How to Survive a Plague (2012)

**** (out of 4)

David France's excellent documentary takes us back in time to see the fight AIDS activists had to go through in order to get where we are today. Through video clips, interviews and other forms of video footage we see how the times changed throughout the years while the main focus of the film is set during the late 80s and early 90s when political indifference and a lack of any plan caused millions of people to die while drugs that might have helped them weren't being given to them. What's so great about this movie is that it uses video footage from throughout the decades to tell its story. It could be media reports, underground videos, appearances by people on talk shows or various other forms of footage that really gives one a terrific idea of this uphill fight. Director France does a rather remarkable job editing the footage together to give the viewer a complete idea of what it was like during these times when it seems no one could agree on what to do next. The film covers the activists hopes for what would happen, the politicians refuses to step in for a variety of reasons and even the Catholic church's controversial statement that condoms were sinful. I thought the film really did do a great job at showing future generations the "war" that these people were pretty much going through in order to try and get something done. Some will argue, perhaps rightfully, that the film is too one-sided since it only gives off one side. I understand this argument and I would have liked to have heard from some of the medical departments on why more wasn't done. Still, HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE is a pretty haunting and dramatic little picture that will certainly be a staple of its subject for years to come.

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12 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Not a Zombie Movie!

Author: Markus Emilio Robinson
10 January 2013

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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12 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

How To Survive A Plague Tells How To Achieve Real Change

Author: Le Movie Snob
18 October 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie is an excellent, engrossing, and necessary document to an important period of history.

Living in New York City in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was familiar with ACT-UP. At least I thought I was.

ACT-UP is the acronym for the Aids Coalition To Unleash Power, an organization founded by gay activists to pressure the powers that be to help them fight the deadly disease ravaging their community. Their accomplishments have benefited every citizen of the United States, gay and straight, and they deserve our recognition and gratitude.

After watching this movie, I felt old and sad. Old because I remember how frightening AIDS was. I remember learning of the deaths of artists I had just discovered, like the fashion designer Patrick Kelly and disco diva Sylvester. I remember exactly where I was when I heard Freddie Mercury had died. Having dated some "confused" guys, I remember the dread of getting tested. I remember when AIDS meant certain death.

For gays to be fighting for the right to marry today almost seems to be a luxury. The footage opening the movie seems quaint today: people in acid-washed, mommy-cut jeans being arrested as they shout "Health care is a right!" Who did these people think they were?

Director David France: "We didn't know from week to week who was going to make it. That was a literal fact. There's no hyperbole there. It's one thing to try and tell somebody that, but what this archive of footage allowed me to do was to show it and allow the audience to wonder from frame to frame who would live and who would die."

They challenged the FDA and changed the drug approval procedure. They challenged pharmaceutical companies and got them to lower their prices as well as speed up their research process. They created a blueprint for how to make a difference in the world.

It's important to remember that they accomplished all of this without the internet, social media, or cell phones. They accomplished this with Republican presidents. They accomplished this despite the societal acceptance prejudice against homosexuals.

The people profiled who became the core members of ACT UP had nothing in common save the fear of death. Of particular note:

Larry Kramer might be the only one with any name recognition. His 1987 New York Times op-ed piece is credited for the founding of ACT UP. His appearances and interviews in the movie are the most eloquent, as one would expect from a playwright.

Peter Staley was a bond trader who tested positive for HIV two years after moving to New York. He was given a flyer for an ACT UP protest but had not planned to attend until his boss said "Everyone with AIDS deserves to die because they take it up the butt." His knowledge of corporate culture informed ACT UP's successful demonstrations against pharmaceutical companies and federal bureaucracies.

Iris Long was a straight housewife from Queens who felt compelled to share what she'd learned from her twenty years of working in drug development. She taught ACT UP the protocols of every aspect of drug creation allowing them to take on the establishment with authority. Ultimately, her contributions were more valuable than any other member.

Bob Rafsky was a PR director who came out at age 40. The movie includes a gripping scene of him confronting candidate Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential campaign.

The movie's director, David France, insists he's not a movie director. That is very humble of him; much of the footage in this film was shot by people who succumbed to the plague (they are given screen credit). France is a journalist whose career has been spent covering the disease. Realizing that the disease was discovered at the same time camcorders hit the market gave him the idea to make this movie. The story of ACT UP emerged from the over 700 hours of footage he found.

Along with last year's documentary We Were Here, the time has come for the story of AIDS to be told, lest it be forgotten. Many of those on the front lines have had the trauma affect their memories. As was observed in Holocaust survivors, beyond a specific date, no one could remember what happened.

That date was 1996 when the Protease Inhibitor Crixivan was approved. By December of that year, AIDS deaths in New York City had gone down by 50%. Had Presidents Reagan and Bush committed more funding to AIDS, that drug would have appeared sooner and many lives could have been saved. Bush's own AIDS commission criticized his lack of commitment in June, 1992.

France said that year " ...AIDS became a non-story. Newspapers stopped writing about it. It was over."

Today, HIV is a manageable condition rather than a death sentence.

Despite its subject matter, this is not a propogand-doc. France doesn't ignore the infighting that threatened ACT-UP's existence; in fact Larry Kramer is critical of the movie for not including more of these details. I'm sad he's not happy with the movie. The movie includes footage of him angrily berating those infighters. "Plague!!!" he exclaims in exasperation. " It is a plague that is not going to go away. It is only going to get worse," he said in 2011.

His choice to interview the pharmaceutical scientists is an inspired one. It is a reminder that drug companies are not the enemy. ACT UP proved that the real route to change is to work within the existing systems, not to destroy them.

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8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Wonderful Look Backwards to a Terrifying Time

Author: DennisHinSF from United States
9 December 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

First of all, this review might not need a spoiler warning, being a documentary, and most people are pretty well up on the facts of the case. But since this is my 1st review, I thought I'd play it on the safe side (in that regard anyway.) The Film begins in 1987, the 6th year of the AIDS Crisis. It opens at the East Coast Ground Zero, New York City's Greenwich Village. It is the story of ACTUP, The AIDS Coalition To Uleash Power, a group of mostly young people determined to make the medical system responsive to people who are simply running out of time, who are dying, many in their early 20's. In addition to seeking treatments for this incurable (and in 1987, nearly 100% fatal) disease, they are through confrontational, non-violent tactics challenging the internalized Homophobia in the Medical System, Police Departmemnts, Our Governments, and more-much more. People today have a hard time believing that hospitals would turn away the dying, or that ambulances would refuse to transport patients with AIDS, but it is TRUE. Now that I've covered some of the story, I can tell you that this is one of the finest stories of human courage I have ever seen. The specter of young men and women falling victim in the prime of their lives, combined with the inaction and almost blasé attitudes of our own government is something to behold. The film at some places focuses on 4 or 5 main characters in the ACTUP group-as the story unfolds we watch some soldier on and some die. Myself, I came to love every one of them, and some knew at the start what they were doing was for future generations; they knew it was too late for them. Part of me still screams 25 years later; These people put their lives on the line, got involved with drug protocols early on, risked repeated arrest and police beatings (notice the latex gloves on the police).The style is mostly cinema verite; the editing is superb; and remember ACTUP did all this - without the internet, no cell phones, not even a fax machine. It is amazing what human beings can do when motivated. And in this case, it was either mobilize, inform, demand humanity, or just lay down and die. See This Film! It is essential viewing for an era that must NEVER be forgotten.

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9 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

A moving and insightful documentary

Author: Patryk Czekaj from Warsaw
16 November 2012

How to Survive a Plague is definitely one of the year's most awe-inspiring, riveting, go-into- action documentaries. Through a mightily informative combination of recent interviews and archival footage the film exhibits a noteworthy fight against both ignorance and indifference towards such a deadly epidemic as the one caused by the HIV virus. This is also a serious, heartfelt, touching depiction of a movement that was ready to change something, even if it meant sacrificing a few soldiers along the way. And yes, the word 'soldiers' is perfectly suitable when it comes to all those young people who devoted their whole lives to a global, far-reaching cause.

Year by year, How to Survive a Plague presents a through and insightful look at the actions that propelled the LGBT activists in some of their most tragic days. Undeniably, the story behind such coalitions as Act Up and TAG are exhilarating ones. Even though the then-deadly virus already infected many of those young people, they still didn't lose faith in the cause and decided to stand up against the government and its reluctance to help those in need. Lead by a few charismatic and devoted individuals Act Up changed to course of history and it's definitely not an exaggeration. By making the whole world aware of the seriousness of this ferocious AIDS plague the activists made the world a place friendly for all inhabitants of this planet, no matter their sexual orientation or skin color.

How to Survive a Plague is a clever, intriguing and fortifying documentary. Every scene of the film matters, every voice raised is a significant one. Decidedly so, the interviews shine a new light on the past events presented in the archival footage, and their coming together combines for a valuable film experience.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Great and extremely sad film. Glad that I stumbled upon it.

Author: ( from Australia
24 June 2013

What a great documentary.

Such incredible people. Their courage and strength will be imprinted on others forever. I watched it last night and I can't stop thinking about it today. So beautiful how the community came together to try and save each others lives and so sad that so many died and so many were left with grief. I think Iris was hugely instrumental in the whole take off of the movement. Good on her for caring enough to do something about it. Very well put together story. Glad that I watched this, I am going on a trip to New york this year and it will give the visit a bit more meaning for me.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

The Art of Survival

Author: jadepietro from United States
20 March 2013

This film is recommended.

David France's documentary, How To Survive A Plague, chronicles the devastating effect of AIDS upon the gay community from the mid eighties to present day. Through archival footage and direct interviews with activists and patients who fought against government bureaucracy, homophobia, and ignorance, the film also shows the history and political beginnings of gay, lesbian, and trans-genders who formed a group called ACT UP. This organization courageously battled the FDA, pharmaceutical companies, politicians, and hate- mongers, like Jesse Helms and his ilk, to try to stop this disease from reaching epidemic proportions with protest marches, sit-ins, and angry demonstrations to make the world aware of the severity of the problem.

The film covers nearly two decades of public outcry and disdain for the lack of tolerance and expediency in preventing this scourge. At times, the documentary shows some of the protests against various institutions like the Roman Catholic Church, Ronald Reagan and George Bush, and Congress in sketchy terms with some details lacking. But in general, the film succeeds in painting a clear picture of these average citizens forced to become activists due to a lack of insight and compassion from those in power, those elected officials who chose to look the other way until the disease started to target the general public.

How To Survive A Plague is an angry film, as well it should be. It profiles these heroic people whom continually found strength in each other while losing friends and loved ones in the process. This historic film helps to set the record straight as it shows their tragic tales without any bias or grandstanding. How To Survive A Plague becomes a life-affirming testament for those that lived and those that survived in the struggle against adversity and bigotry while keeping its focus on the dignity of a human life and a sense of equality and justice for all. GRADE: B

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NOTE: Although a cure has been found to delay the fatality of this disease, the cost factor remains exorbitantly high for most average middle-class people. And so the fight continues...

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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

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

Author: Ordinary Review ( from Switzerland
16 June 2013

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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