How to Survive a Plague

Director: David France
Year Released: 2012
Rating: 2.0

Impassioned - if flawed - look at the organization ACT UP (led by Mark Harrington, Peter Staley, Jim Eigo and Iris Long, among many others) as they engage in civil disobedience and sometimes outright hostile tactics to try to get the U.S. Government to address the spread of AIDS among the (predominately) gay community. As visibly important as the efforts of ACT UP (and, later, TAG) certainly were - they put a series of faces to the "plague" - I could not shake the nagging feeling while watching this that this documentary is only getting half the story, taking obvious pot-shots at the likes of George H. W. Bush and an obvious bigot like Jesse Helms (with taunts like "you're murdering us") as if those two men were the core source of the problem, and even having the likes of Staley and Harrington later admitting that their early approach to the crisis may have been misguided. I understand the panic and rage - these men saw this as a race against time (they were losing friends and facing death themselves) - but I feel like more arbitrary voices were required in the discussion to make for a more well-rounded argument, and it's no surprise that the most even-tempered and captivating people director France gets to interview are scientists from Merck. Of course, France doesn't even go into the fact that the individuals getting AIDS were doing so because of unsafe personal practices (Staley says people need to be more cautious with their sexual activity) and the scene of family members and friends dumping their loved ones' ashes on the White House lawn - to me - seems not only crude but an uncomfortable act of outright bullying. ACT UP (and TAG) were important, but there are other factors at play in the narrative that are intentionally silenced.