Best First Film: “How to Survive a Plague” – 25 Years of AIDS Activism

Review: How to Survive a Plague, 2012 Documentary

by Larry Murray

Another in our series of 2012 film reviews documenting the LGBT community

Blisteringly powerful, How to Survive A Plague transports us back to another time of political demonizing of the gay community, and the downfall of another Republican, George H.W. Bush. AIDS and HIV are still very much the subject of activism and continued research, but so are such issues as LGB’s in the military – now policy – and the increasing number of states that have embraced marriage equality. People like the despicable Senator Jesse Helms and Jerry Falwell are dead, many hateful fossils such as John Cardinal O’Connor, Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson have become laughable caricatures, and there is progress.

Already winning awards (the New York Film Critics Circle gave director David France an award calling it the Best First Film.) Screening at Images in Williamstown, MA on December 3 at 6:00 pm. More here. Don’t miss this local chance to see it. LM

Time marches on as does progress. And making change happen takes a long time. The film’s greatest contribution to our understanding is just how long that is, especially in the complex world of drugs and politics. It is not at all like our technological world of instant messaging. Sometimes it feels like you just have to be patient and wait for the obstructionists to die off so that a new generation to take over. Or as in the case of the FDA and CDC, to recognize that change comes incrementally, and you have to win over those on the inside as well as those in the streets.

How to Survive lays it all out. From the importance of activism, to the long periods of time that it takes to produce results. From the first moments when playwright Larry Kramer started the ball rolling it took a decade for a genuine cocktail of drugs to be attempted, tested and proved successful. In the intervening years, ACT UP, the group he fostered, fissured and cracked yet ultimately did its job: a cure may not have been found, but a way to largely stop the dying was. The only problem is that even today, millions of those affected can not afford the cost. The efforts continues, though largely out of sight, as protests and large communal actions are increasingly rare.

28 million people globally still can not afford treatment. In the US, nearly half of the 1.1 million people living with HIV are not on treatment. AIDS remains the most stigmatized disease in human history.

As the film unfolds, we see early AIDS activists became experts on the virus, demanding the changes in research, drug development and treatment approaches that turned HIV/AIDS from a death sentence into a treatable condition. As successful change agents, they mastered the issues, navigated the political context, and finally persuaded those in power to join them in making change.

The filmmakers are not content to show the film, they have been organizing meet-ups and post-screening discussions so people can connect with like-minded folks, learn more, make things happen and have some fun in the process.

This is the most important documentary on the fight to cure AIDS that has ever been released. Here is a link to screenings and discussions .

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