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Extremely Well-Made
Michael_Elliott2 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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wonderful, bittersweet look at a movement over ten years
Quinoa198425 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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Utterly compelling.
jpm-387-61312513 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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Not a Zombie Movie!
ghost_dog8610 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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How To Survive A Plague Tells How To Achieve Real Change
lemoviesnob-482-65953718 October 2012
Warning: 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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A moving and insightful documentary
patryk-czekaj16 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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Wonderful Look Backwards to a Terrifying Time
DennisHinSF9 December 2012
Warning: 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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imdb-783-5078471 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
David France's documentary following a small group of gay activists relies heavily on archived videography to capture the essence of what we know today to be the most efficient drugs in the halting of the HIV virus.

Starting in 1986, a group of homosexual men (including Peter Staley and Mark Harrington) are recently diagnosed with the HIV virus, along with many of their peers, and actively protest the government – and specifically the FDA – to come up with a drug. Or better still, a cure. The group becomes known as "Act Up!" and quickly – some may say even like a virus – spawns a lot of active participants as they lose their jobs (health insurance), mortgages (ironic, considering the first four letters of that word) and future (i.e. none), rustle up enough cash and embark on the biggest battle against the oncoming zombie-like apocalypse.

This plays like a movie, with its requisite three acts. The final plot point is staggering – and too late for many of our journeymen who die along the way. The mostly historical footage comprises to make this seem as if we're in a time machine; digging out old VHS tapes and revisiting the past. We suspect many of these youngsters won't make it, but will go down with a fight. George Bush Snr, Jessie Helms, all try their best to don the antagonist's shoes. It's like a Michael Moore propaganda piece, but this time, Mr. Moore's affected. And not central stage.

That final twist (occurring as it does around 1995) is gobsmacking, but exemplified into the curiously hitherto-unseen narrators of the movie. After absorbing death, illness, frailty – a future promised to our visual on screen protagonists – France wisely saves his best trick for the last twelve minutes. It's a triumph of storytelling through the documentary medium.

The postscript here is bittersweet. Once you've won the fight, and fought for your future – where do you stand, now? And yes, there's the old "but the Catholics don't advocate contraception" but wisely this is kept to a minimum. How to Survive a Plague wisely circumvents the religious debate – a tactic employed by Act Up, and then by its sister offset TAG, and actually garnered results for many. But for some, not soon enough.
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If my rating was based solely on the people in this documentary, I'd give them all a 10 for their courage and perseverance
theordinaryreview16 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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Can People Change?
boblipton21 June 2022
More than four decades has passed since AIDS reared its ugly head. Questions are still being raised about the effectiveness of the nation's inability to manage a plague; the amount of nonsense, bs, and inaction has not altered, and it's still a struggle to deal with our current plague of Covid-19 and its variations. It's only in the past three or four years that we have managed to deal with AIDS, so the issues with Covid, from denials, anti-masking, and getting the vaccine out to the population has been disgraceful. It's only this week that vaccines have been approved for children, and even in New York City, there are people who have not gotten even their first dose.

So this documentary demonstrates issues that are still with us. You may, if you wish, argue that this is not so much a documentary of the AIDS plague as one of the gay community's reaction to it.

A very good friend of mine came down with AIDS early. When he told me, my reaction was two-fold. "Oh, I said. So you are gay." Then I thought and said "Maybe you should keep quiet about this. Some of our friends might react badly. In the meantime, what can I do?" To my surprise, everyone was very supportive. His straight friends would go to his apartment and keep him company, run errands for him. One afternoon, while sitting with him, we turned on the news, where a story about a marh down on Wall Street, demanding that they do something about the matter came on. I blew up. Where were these people for my friend? Forty years later, I can recognize that they were afraid. We still didn't understand the vectoring of the disease. But at the time, and even today, their abandonment fills me with anger.

None of which excuses the sloth with which the nation as a whole reacted to AIDS, nor the selfish and stupid way we are dealing with Covid-19.
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Heroes here!
meeza29 January 2013
"How to Survive a Plague" is a gripping documentary that tracks down the chronological history of HIV and AIDS, from its onset in the early 80's to today. During the 80's, it was actually a plague killing millions of people. The documentary focuses on two advocacy groups ACT and TAG, and their tireless work for decades to persuade U.S. governments to allocate more funds for AIDS research and medicine. Their efforts helped turn AIDS from a fatal disease to a manageable condition. This documentary might be hard to survive through; not because of any inadequacy but because of the frightful scenes showing how many young people with bright futures died from AIDS. Director David France proficiently exhibits the work of ACT and later TAG from its very beginnings, and then finalizes it showing several ACT & TAG members today in how they were able to survive AIDS. These brave & honorable men practically saved their own lives with their advocacy efforts, and that is one ACT that if hard to follow. OK, now TAG, you are it. Because it is your turn to get educated with France's love letter to ACT & TAG with a "How to Survive a Plague" viewing. **** Good
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The Art of Survival
jadepietro20 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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¨Act Up. Fight Back. Fight AIDS.¨
estebangonzalez1017 February 2013
¨Act Up. Fight Back. Fight AIDS.¨

Director David France does an impressive job of gathering information, data, news footage, and home videos during the decade long fight of the activist group known as ACT UP to find a way to stop the AIDS epidemic in this well constructed documentary. The film succeeds in showing us the anger and outrage that these men went through to stop government inaction on such a widespread plague that was killing off millions of people in the world. I was impressed with this chronological history that David France was able to put together in a brilliant way. My only complaint is that some things were repetitive as we see one rally after another in protest against the government. ACT UP assembled to fight and protest against the little support given by the Reagan and Bush administration, against the FDA which was taking too long to approve drugs that several patients needed, and the Catholic Church which condemned them. The documentary is full of anger, and there are several emotional moments as we see what some of these men had to go through in their struggle with the disease. During the 80's having AIDS meant you had almost a 100% chance of dying; it was practically a death sentence. This made the homophobic atmosphere grow in communities where several hospitals neglected to give these patients health care. France follows the activist group, ACT UP, from its forming moments to its divisive ones, and finally to the goals they accomplished through some breakthroughs. It was not an easy fight, but their voice was heard. This is the story of how some of these men were able to survive the plague.

The story begins six years after the AIDS epidemic has begun to spread. It's 1987 and a group of activists known as ACT UP decide to get together in New York City to protest against the way the AIDS epidemic has been treated. They form a coalition for healthcare after over half a million people had died of AIDS around the world. We follow the protests taking place against some government officials and the activists finally begin to get their voiced heard. David France isn't afraid of sharing some strong images with the viewer as he shows everything in a very raw manner. Their next rallies take place over the country protesting against gay hate, and later we see them protest against the FDA for taking too much time to approve drugs. This leads some of the activists to begin receiving some underground drug treatments in order to try to expand their life as the sickness begins taking a toll on them. They begin to study and discover what the disease really was and fight for possible solutions as they form committees in order to understand AIDS better. They also form support groups for those people who had fear of coming out during that dangerous time. They studied several ways to slow down the virus, but as time passed more and more deaths were taking place. The film follows the decade long fight of ACT UP from 1987 to 1996 where they finally reached a breakthrough, although it came at a great cost.

Some of the important things the AIDS community accomplished were rising consciousness of what the disease really was, they made AIDS become an important issue during the 1992 presidential campaign, and they finally found drugs that helped slow down the effects of the virus. It wasn't an easy fight as we feel the anger some of these men had towards the ineptness of the government of the time and the loss of some of their close friends and relatives. This was a very insightful story and part of American history that needed to be told. France did an excellent job at putting together all the footage and delivering a powerful and emotional documentary. It did drag a little, but it was a strong film.
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not very interesting
hurtstotalktoyou14 April 2013
After having been very surprised and impressed with the AIDS documentary We Were Here, I thought I'd check out this one too. Unfortunately I found myself very disappointed.

The documentary follows the political activism of ACT UP and TAG, and doesn't stray very far from that main track. The filmmakers took a clear political stance on the side of the activists, and much of the documentary smacks of "preaching to the choir." Serious issues are not always taken seriously, and public figures such as George Bush Sr. and Jesse Helms are openly mocked by both the people in the documentary and also the filmmakers themselves.

My main disappointment involved the documentary's focus, which fixed unwaveringly upon the activists. To be fair, this might be a good thing if you happen to be interested in ACT UP and TAG. But some websites (e.g. wikipedia) misleadingly suggest that the documentary also discusses more generally the early period of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. In fact, rarely do the filmmakers show us anything beyond the activism itself. It does not delve into any serious scientific issues, nor does it help us understand the early development of attitudes and expectations people had regarding HIV and AIDS. Also note that it only covers the years from 1987 onward. So we don't get to see anything at all about the beginning of the epidemic in 1981-1986.

Maybe others would appreciate this film, but I did not enjoy it at all. Even for those who are interested in the subject matter, it's hard to imagine this being a compelling documentary. But for those of us who aren't already interested in this particular thread in the history of AIDS, it falls even flatter. It's not as bad as some documentaries, but I certainly don't recommend it either. Sorry to be so negative, but that's just how I see it.
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Outspoken and intense documentary that focused on the early days of AIDS and it showcased the battle for awareness.
blanbrn12 February 2013
I've read a lot about AIDS and saw films and movies with it portrayed, yet I have to say that David France's documentary "How to Survive a Plague" is probably the best yet. The film sends a powerful message of awareness and it's focus of fighting to cure the disease is displayed in a powerful message from activists and medical scientists. Plus the film uses real news clips and footage from the ACT group. Starting with highlights from year 6 of the AIDS plague it's clear the disease is 100% fatal, and many take it for granted as those in politics see it as a falsehood. And most shocking and harrowing as shown in the film is how in the early years of AIDS all emergency rooms would turn patients away who were positive. So with raising cases of AIDS groups started to form to do protest and make media people aware of their bad treatment. Then the historical ACT group was formed to bring nationwide awareness and the fight for underground drugs and imported scientific finds from the medical world were hot topics. Along with the introduction of AZT it would be challenged as ACT looked for more answers from the FDA.

Also showcased during this hard charged documentary was how the moral and religious side even condemned condoms for gays they wanted celibacy for everyone! Neat was seeing how many homosexuals did a Jesus and condoms rebuttal protest! Thru it all more hope was found thru new AIDS research with clinical trials and better drugs from other countries. Overall "How to Survive a Plague" showed that fighting the war on AIDS has came a long way still many battles are to be won, still it's nice to see an outspoken outcry of courage and determination to make a plague like this a known major awareness, and this film showcased it's worth a fight for all!
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In some cases, words and actions can save a million lives
napierslogs20 March 2013
"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".
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A good snapshot of an earlier era
proud_luddite25 September 2020
This U.S. documentary exposes the history of ACTUP (AIDS Committee To Unleash Power), an activist group that began in 1987 to fight against government apathy towards people suffering with AIDS.

This subject has shown up in documentaries rather frequently lately including "We Were Here" and "Vito". Those other documentaries were very powerful in getting to the viewer's heart; this new film gets down and dirty and shows, via recorded camcorder footage, the extreme anger that was needed to get government action to get drugs that could prolong life for those living with the disease. Tensions within the movement are also exposed.

Such anger would be dismissed in modern times as going too far. But considering the many who were ill, dying, and losing eyesight in those difficult times, the in-your-face approach was needed for true action especially when prejudice was also a factor. Sadly though, there are very uncomfortable moments when members of government institutions are being directly confronted and accused of murder. This seems very unfair yet one wonders if it was the only approach left to try to get the drugs to prolong life - drugs that became available in the mid-1990s.

This rhetoric would later morph into the extremes of political correctness that also arose in the early 1990s. It became a royal pain as it was used by many other people and groups who exaggerated their victim-hood if they had any to begin with. Perhaps, this will be the subject of a future documentary.

Most effective in this film was interviews with the surviving activists and their outlook on what happened in the nine years of that movement before better drugs were invented.
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Great and extremely sad film. Glad that I stumbled upon it.
angman224 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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SwollenThumb30 March 2018
Film record of New York activists' momentous struggle to have AIDS drugs made available while they and those around them were dying from the virus. Incredible and important documentary footage. But also heartbreaking personal stories of the devastation caused by the disease. Ultimately uplifting so don't be put off by the subject. It is left till near the end to reveal who actually survived the plague as they sum up those terrible years till '96/'97 and the difference their activism made. Inspiring.
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PBS Telecast: The Good and the Bad
vilj-131 December 2013
This documentary was shown by PBS, in my area, on Monday 12/30/2013. That was GOOD, since otherwise, I would not have watched it, because I didn't even know this 2012 documentary even existed. The BAD part of it, is that PBS showed it from 11pm to 12:30pm, therefore they showed a close to a 1:30 hours documentary and the running time of it is 1:50 hours. That's 20 minutes of footage missing from the original documentary, which was filmed with a running time of 110 minutes. Documentaries are usually well edited, that's why there is always a lot of "extras," deleted scenes and so on. GOOD for PBS for showing it, but BAD (very bad) for cutting 20 minutes from it.
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Fascinating and well made
jellopuke16 July 2022
The inside look at activist groups fighting the AIDS crisis told with archival fly on the wall footage and remarkable access. It's hard to watch at times and doesn't always put the players in the best light, but it's a very worthwhile look at what happened for anyone not alive then.
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The beautiful story of a movement to save homosexual men and women's lives...
slanesr18 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
How To Survive A Plague beautifully captures the story of young gay women and men as they fight against AIDS. The movie follows two groups, ACT-UP (Aids Coalition To Unleash Power) and TAG (Treatment Action Group) as they fight to bring awareness and find a cure for AIDS.

Through interviews, home movies and footage of the protests, you meet multiple gay men and women who have contracted AIDS and are fighting for their lives. They organize and attend multiple protests to bring awareness to the AIDS epidemic while also trying to find a cure.

Without any scientific training or experience, they educate themselves on the dangers of AIDS, how the disease works and their treatment options. Many begin to sell, buy and use drugs not approved by the FDA in an effort to save their lives. While at the same time pushing the FDA and pharmaceutical industry to test and approve new drugs at record time.

Throughout the time this film covers, you get a true insight to the discrimination they faced, the fear they felt, and their struggle to stay alive. Many of those featured in the movie end up dying after contracting the disease, very accurately capturing what those in the homosexual community were facing. You can truly see the passion and effort these men and women put into finding treatment for AIDS.

However, the footage of the protests begins to become repetitive and boring. I also would have preferred if there was more of an explanation of how the medications work. The explanation you get is very brief and seems out of place in respect to the rest of the movie.

Overall, this movie does a wonderful job highlighting the work done by ACT-UP and TAG to advocate and find treatment for AIDS. It's a must see for anyone looking to educate themselves on the AIDS epidemic in America.
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