How to Survive a Plague

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How to Survive a Plague
How to Survive a Plague
Directed by David France
Produced by Dan Cogan
Written by David France
Todd Woody Richman
Tyler H. Walk
Music by Stuart Bogie
Cinematography Derek Wiesehahn
Edited by Todd Woody Richman
Tyler H. Walk
Distributed by Mongrel Media (Canada theatrical)
Sundance Selects (USA theatrical)
Release date
  • January 22, 2012 (2012-01-22) (Sundance Film Festival)
  • September 21, 2012 (2012-09-21) (United States (limited))
Running time
109 min.
Country United States
Language English
Box office $132,055[1]

How to Survive a Plague is a 2012 American documentary film about the early years of the AIDS epidemic, and the efforts of ACT UP and TAG. It was directed by David France, a journalist who covered AIDS from its beginnings. For France it was his first film. He dedicated it to his partner Doug Gould,[2][3][4] who died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1992. The documentary was produced using more than 700 hours of archived footage which included news coverage, interviews as well as film of demonstrations, meetings and conferences taken by ACT UP members themselves. France says they knew what they were doing was historic, and that many of them would die. The film, which opened in select theatres across the United States on September 21, 2012, also includes footage of a demonstration during mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1989.[5]


People featured in the film include:


Beginning at the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, the documentary follows a group of AIDS activists and founders of AIDS group ACT UP, and follows their struggle for response from the United States government and medical establishment in developing effective HIV/AIDS medications. Activists took it upon themselves to get the FDA to approve drugs that could slow down or even halt the AIDS virus and demanded that the trials that would usually take 7–10 years to test be shortened and put on the market. It also documents the underground market for HIV drugs. Many people relied on drugs imported from other countries that could potentially slow down the HIV virus, despite the medications not being FDA approved. At the time, the only drug available to slow the progression of HIV was AZT which was in many cases toxic to HIV infected people, and in some cases caused blindness. The cost of AZT was about $10,000 a year in the late 1980s, which many HIV activists considered too expensive. ACT UP's efforts led to the creation of the International Aids Conference. DDI-an alternative medication to AZT, that did not cause blindness was released by the FDA despite not going through a full length safety trial.

HIV activists also protested the immigration policies banning HIV positive people from immigrating to the United States as being discriminatory and homophobic. When existing drugs proved ineffective as treatment for HIV, TAG lobbied for more research into the HIV virus. In 1996 Protease inhibitors were released as a combination of drugs that lowered the HIV viral load in patients more than any drug had before. It was considered a breakthrough in HIV and AIDS research and continues to be used as a treatment for HIV and AIDS.

The documentary included interviews with HIV activists, physicians and members of underground organizations as well as clips of the protests, meetings and news coverage taking place during the 1980s and 1990s.

A book 'edition', with the same title, was published by Knopf in November 2016. ISBN 978-0771047510


Critical response[edit]

Currently, the film has a rating of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, and an average score of 8.6/10, based on 69 reviews.[6]


How to Survive a Plague received awards for best documentary of 2012 from the Gotham Independent Film Awards and from the Boston Society of Film Critics. The Independent Spirit Awards nominated it for Best Documentary. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in the 85th Academy Awards.[7] The film also won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary and a Peabody Award.[8] It was nominated for a Directors Guild Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.[9] Critic A. O. Scott of The New York Times named How to Survive a Plague one of the best five documentaries of 2012.[10] Fellow New York Times critic Stephen Holden called the documentary the eighth best film of 2012.[11] It also won Documentary of the Year at Attitude magazine's Attitude Awards 2013.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]