How to Survive a Plague is a new documentary film from journalist, David France, who covered the HIV/AIDS pandemic from its early years when there were just 41 cases in the United States.
This highly emotive film uses archive footage to chart the response of the gay community in New York and beyond to what still is a terrifying disease with no known cure. The filmmaker David France says of the approach to recording the pandemic:
“It’s a quirky, but not inconsequential, fact about HIV that the virus made its hideous debut in medical journals just a few months before the first camcorders hit the stores. In the long years before the Internet, before cell-phone cameras or social networks, these low-cost marvels democratized the power of moving images and built the first bridge between mass media and previously hidden worlds.”
The moving and upsetting accounts of HIV patients and their families is contrasted with video footage of public homophobia of the kind which would be anathema in the modern United States.
The organised and highly eloquent campaigners of ACT UP and its later splinter group the Treatment Action Group, mounted a wave of direct action, publicity, and political activism to combat the disease. How to Survive a Plague should be of interest to all political actors and campaigners for the recording of the ways in which activists co-ordinated themselves to produce useful and lasting results for HIV/AIDS sufferers.
The speeches of Peter Staley are beautifully crafted, reasonable and motivating. Mark Harrington’s dedication, alongside chemist Iris Long and others, to scientific research produced a helpful, reliable stream of motivation, direction and detailed critiques to the medical community. Overall ACT UP and TAG succeeded in altering political and societal attitudes to HIV/AIDS as well as ushering in the first effective treatment, which became available in 1996.
The wider global impact of the disease is mentioned throughout the film in the form of a staggering death toll. Indeed, the only regret of the highly successful and motivated Mark Harrington is that the combination therapy breakthrough occurred in 1996, rather than 1989. Nevertheless, the breakthrough arrested the death rate and resulted in 6 million lives saved.
Bringing the story up to date, the film mentions the 2 million people who die every year from lack of access to effective HIV/AIDS treatments because of prohibitive prices. How to Survive a Plague is an inspiring, well-constructed and highly emotive appeal to the world’s population to face up to the continuing peril posed by this deadly disease.
How to Survive a Plague was first released in February 2013 in the United States. It will be shown in UK cinemas from 8th November 2013.