How to Survive a Plague (2012) (Not Rated)
"PLAGUE! We are in the middle of a fucking plague!"
David France's "How to Survive a Plague" is an important minority and activist based pieces. It's also one of the most important documentaries. Beginning in the late 80s, the film chronicles the AIDs epidemic through the mid 90s and up to present day where it poses the problem of people still dying en masse due to the disease. What do you do with that?
At the beginning of the movie, there is a movement with a group called "Act Up" that is protesting politically in order to garner research and treatment for AIDs. At this point in time, AIDs was something that was thought to be incurable, degenerative, and a problem only for the homosexuals. This was before any treatment was available whatsoever. So Act Up was not only fighting to make changes within a legislative and medical sense, it was actually carving the path.
By the early 90s, a few drugs like AZT had appeared and although more fictional movies like "Dallas Buyers Club" would optimistically like to have their audiences believe that these were miracle medications, the sad truth that David France states is that AZT was simply not enough and this would be found out later. It was a good start, but it was nowhere near close enough.
Hellbent on finding a way to help the next generations, the audience is privy to carefully reconstructed portrayals of martyrs for the cause. These people were already going to die, they had resigned themselves to that, so they actively placed themselves in the line of fire from police, from politicians, and from the general public. They took whatever drugs they could because—"what the hell?"—it couldn't make their situation worse.
As such a backdrop, "How to Survive a Plague" is almost brutally hard to watch because you will be observing people at their wit's end in every scene. Then again, this is also what gives us hope, because these people would no take no for an answer and devoted their entire lives to this activism which then helped millions of people receive treatment.
Happy for some, the film doesn't masquerade as the hope of humanity piece that Spielberg might turn it into, instead it's a reminder that progress has occurred, we should honor those who fought for it, now let's move on and keep demanding more. Like many great social commentary documentaries of recent years—from "The Square" to "Blackfish"—it tries to promote a change in the mindset of its viewer. It struggles, it wrestles, it bleeds.
What the movie from a technical standpoint succeeds at the most is being one of the most comprehensively edited and developed documentaries I've ever seen. It relies solely on interviews and archival footage and the amount of film that it manages to recover is staggering. Every scene reeks of the desperation of the activism movement and it is so potent that it can't help but seep out of the screen.
"How to Survive a Plague" wants to make you think, it wishes you to be educated, and it is not as biased as you may believe. The cutting together of the footage and the interviews is such that proves that even within the minority group of the minority itself, there were divides and differences of opinions. People were not always rational; but that's the beauty of the movie.
Its accomplishments are so profound that they leave me at a loss for words, drained of my emotions.
It is essential viewing.
Posted by Micah Jones