The 2012 Greggys: The Film of the Year is the superb documentary “How to Survive a Plague”
How to Survive a Plague is superb film that gives us a front-row seat to the epic day-to-day battles that ultimately resulted in AIDS no longer being a death sentence.
It’s a film that I have not stopped thinking about since seeing it at Outfest over the summer and I’m so glad it is on the short list of documentaries that could nab an Academy Award nomination. It’s already been nominated for the Independent Spirit Award.
The more people who see this the better because they will learn that the drug treatments that became available in the mid-90s would not have happened if not for the work of AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) – the group whose story is told in this film.
ACT UP may be best known for their headline-grabbing protests but its members were an extraordinarily resourceful group who elevated themselves with their own self-education. They interacted with scientists, researchers and regulators and eventually spun-off into the Treatment Action Group (TAG).
Thanks to the development of Protese Inhibitors (the film does an amazingly effective job of explaining the science behind the disease and the drugs without losing momentum) which became available in 1996, AIDS deaths in New York City declined by 50 percent that first year.
Since then, close to 8,000,000 lives have been saved by the drugs.
The film’s director, David France is a journalist who covered most of the events that take place in the film and lost his lover to the disease in 1992.
“For a long time, I’ve wanted to tell the story of how those dark days ended – the combined brilliance that worked together to tame a virus,” he told us at Outfest.
France went through 700 hours of footage for the film which was originally 13 hours long.
“It took us two days to watch it and we loved every bit,” he said. “We didn’t want to take any of it out. We told the stories of people whose lives were lived brilliantly. To take any of it out seemed like an act of cruelty. But we had to make the film digestible.”