Monday, March 25, 2013

How to Survive a Plague

Directed by David France and written by France, Todd Woody Richman, and Tyler H. Walk, How to Survive a Plague is a documentary about the formation of ACT UP during the late 1980s to raise awareness for AIDS and to find treatment to fight the drug. The film is a look into the long-decade period in which an entire community came together and fought against the government, religious organizations, and drug companies to get the drugs they needed to fight the disease as well as how those who founded ACT UP would later form the group TAG. The result is an eerie yet provocative film about one of the most crucial periods in American history.

The AIDS epidemic was one of the most haunting periods in the 1980s where gays and lesbians who were suffering from the disease as well as HIV-related illnesses were feeling neglected as nearly half a million people had already died of the disease by 1987. It would take a small group of people to from ACT UP to not only raise awareness but also to confront the people in government as well as many organizations to finally make the drugs available. Director David France unveils this long history that spans to nearly an entire decade that ends in 1996 when a combination of drugs were finally available to the public which helped not only those suffering from the disease but also give them the chance to live longer.

While a lot of the film is based on footage shot by the people who formed ACT UP in the 1980s in New York City during Mayor Ed Koch’s tenure. There are new interviews that are shot through Derek Wiesehahn’s camera while only the founders of ACT UP would finally be unveiled late in the film to reveal how far they’ve come. With the help of editors and co-writers Todd Woody Richman and Tyler H. Walk, France is able to collect an array of news footage and personal documentary about the lives of these activists and the meetings they would have that were very passionate and also filled with anger. Through these array of elaborate protests where activists took charge, they were able to get the attention of the media.

Yet, the activists also revealed how some of the founders of ACT UP split to form TAG as well as some of the frustrations that occurred during these protests. Even as they were using drugs that weren’t really working to begin with as they also admitted to feeling na├»ve about speeding up the process where TAG wanted to slow things down in order for scientists and doctors to carefully do their research. While there are moments in the film that reveal some humor in the way the protestors fought against opponents such as the Catholic Church in New York City. A lot of the film is quite grim considering how many people had already died during this period where million of people had died of the disease by the mid-1990s. Notably a scene where one of ACT UP’s members had died where protestors used his funeral as a protest on the day before the 1992 election to remind George H.W. Bush that this man’s death was Bush’s responsibility for his neglect.

With the help of sound recorders Stuart Deutsch and Topher Reifeiss, France is able to use the interviews both old and new to unveil a lot of what was happening including some quiet moments that included one of the protestor‘s family life. The film’s music by Stuart Bogie is quite evocative for its mixture of ambient and orchestral music to play out some of the dreariness of the film and how some things did go bad. Music supervisors John Carlin, Beco Dranoff and Paul Heck bring in a soundtrack that features a wide mix of music from jazz, show tunes, pop, and dance to capture the energy of the culture.

How to Survive a Plague is a remarkable film from David France. The film is definitely a documentary audiences who are interested in the history of AIDS to see how an entire community came together to get drugs available to the public through protests and venting their anger. It’s also a film that unveils a piece of history that is captivating but also somber for the fact that millions of people had died in this terrible disease which definitely could be defined as a plague. In the end, How to Survive a Plague is a brilliant documentary from David France.

© thevoid99 2013

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