Friday, January 18, 2013

How to Survive a Plague

2012, US, directed by David France

It's hardly unexpected that How to Survive a Plague provides a moving, often angry account of several central years in the efforts of AIDS activists, especially those of ACT UP, to transform official attitudes toward HIV/AIDS from 1987. Archival footage and talking heads interviews, the latter introduced gradually as the film evolves, take the viewer back to a time of increasing desperation for those afflicted by AIDS in the 1980s, particularly gay men (there are only occasional references to other affected groups, and to the international scope of the scourge). What's more surprising, though, is the genuinely fascinating insight into the workings of the movement, which self-documented to a striking degree: the film could function as a primer for any activist group, particularly those dealing with the difficult transition from initial, energetic participation to increasing professionalization. The tensions are never sugar-coated -- some of the most electric footage in the film is from around the time when the Treatment Action Group, or TAG, was striking out from Act Up, with angry denunciations and a sense of betrayal vivid on the faces of some speakers (the window into organizational dynamics reminded me of Patu!, the New Zealand documentary about anti-apartheid protests in that country).

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States