“How to Survive a Plague”: Silence Equalled Death

Maybe you’ve heard of it; maybe not. It’s currently in theaters, but hardly. However, it recently won Best Documentary from the Boston Society of Film Critics (2012). And How to Survive a Plague is so noteworthy it’s also made it onto film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum‘s (Entertainment Weekly) “10 Best Movies of 2012.”

Directed by David France, How to Survive a Plague tells the story of both ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), two coalitions responsible back in the day for pushing such organizations as the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, the drug companies, and the general medical establishment to do more regarding AIDS research and treatment.

Watch the trailer before reading on:

The Story Via Review Excerpts

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: The film “begins in 1987, six years into the AIDS epidemic, when the group Act Up formed in Greenwich Village and proceeded to march on New York’s City Hall in an effort to shame Mayor Ed Koch for his lack of response to what was then known as the ‘gay plague.'”

Sara Stewart, The New York Post:

Featured ACT UP leaders include writer and agitator Larry Kramer; Peter Staley, a former closeted bond trader who went on to become one of the group’s most eloquent spokesmen; and Bob Rafsky, whose angry outburst at a speech by then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton evoked the now-famous phrase ‘I feel your pain.’
Video of protests, strategy meetings and the near-dead is interspersed with TV images of President George H.W. Bush merrily playing golf and Sen. Jesse Helms denouncing the ‘revolting’ victims for not keeping their ‘sodomy’-related problems to themselves. (In one of their more lighthearted actions, the group memorably unfurled a giant condom over Helms’ house.)

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon:

I’d have been happy to live out my life never again seeing the faces of such homophobic and generally hateful goblins as Sen. Jesse Helms and John Cardinal O’Connor, but it’s useful to remember that such people are not deeply buried in the American past and that some are with us today. While ACT UP’s ‘Stop the Church’ protests inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1989 no doubt struck many onlookers as shocking and disrespectful, many of the protesters involved had been raised Catholic and were reacting in outrage against a church that actively scorned them and seemed to delight in their extinction.

By the Ending…

Sara StewartThe New York Post: “France wisely waits until near the end to reveal which ACT UP members are still living, and which are not. ‘How to Survive a Plague,’ while a shaggier-structured documentary than many, is a heart-wrenching portrait of one of the saddest, most heroic chapters in American history.”

Stephen WhittyStar-Ledger: “(M)ostly the film toggles between two emotions – the high of watching brave people go to war, and the low of seeing so many of them fall, as entire communities are destroyed. (‘Will the last person alive in Chelsea,’ one man bitterly jokes, ‘please turn off the lights?’).”

Amy BiancolliSan Francisco Chronicle: “When it’s over, this documentary lingers as a testament to extraordinary human bravery. It stands as one of the most heartbreaking and suspenseful sagas of the year.”

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