Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Markus Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
By using (mostly) never before seen archival footage, David France’s unflinching documentary “How to Survive a Plague” DOCUMENTS the early epidemic of the AIDS virus in the United States, during a time when it was seen as a death sentence.
With a mixture of video from protests, support rallies and home movies, France portrays actual struggling AIDS victims/activists as their friends and family members begin to go blind and die around them, and the US government does little in way of assistance. France also does a great job of not only showcasing the overwhelming amount of discrimination during the 80’s and 90’s, which altogether ostracized anybody with AIDS or people that had any linkage to the gay communities, but succeeds in his attempts to dissect the human condition, by showing how far a determined group of people are willing to go for change.
The rest of the footage, which shows government officials such as former Senator Jesse Helms, former President Ronald Regan and former President George Bush Sr. is maybe the most shocking aspect of this film; as they come off as negligent and at times so blatantly prejudiced, that it’s disturbing to think how everything depicted here took place only between 20 and 30 years ago.
Beginning in New York with the denial of the AIDS epidemic by former New York Mayor Ed Kotch, to the introduction of the highly toxic drug AZT (the most expensive drug on the market at the time, and the only one used to prolong the life of AIDS patients) to the Roman Catholic Church condemning the use of condoms, and ending with the evolution of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) a group of activists (most of whom had the AIDS virus themselves) who revolutionized the way AIDS was treated, turning it into a manageable condition; the importance of this film lies in its documentation of a disenfranchised people during a time in American history that isn’t broached in the classroom. But equally as interesting as the subject matter, is how creatively this documentary is put together. This archival footage format is truly an ingenious way to tell a narrative, really working on an almost purely visceral level to capture the times and atmosphere of a real life American revolution, in a way not many documentaries have the ability to do.
Final Thought: “How to Survive A Plague” is not only an informative, fascinating, and sure to be award winning film, but also one of the most powerful documentaries of 2012. There’s not much more I can say about this documentary, other than that actually sitting down and witnessing what this film has to say, for yourself will undoubtedly create a deeper impact and elicit more of an emotional response than any mere words can say.
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