USA 2012; 110 min.
directed by David France
A Sundance Selects release
|Peter Staley in action. Photo: William Lucas Walker|
David France's exhilarating and moving How to Survive A Plague relates the boisterous history of ACT UP--all the triumphs and missteps--with a personalizing focus on several of its leading activists. These include Staley and Mark Harrington as well as the late Bob Rafsky who died from AIDS complications in 1993. Rafsky will be remembered by most for his confrontation with presidential-hopeful Bill Clinton that led to the famous "I feel your pain" non-answer.
That scene, from a Clinton fundraiser, is highlighted in France's documentary along with many others that retell the progression of HIV/AIDS in New York's gay male community and that community's dramatic, intelligent responses. Although a sprinkling of women and people of color are shown or interviewed, France has concentrated on assembling footage and gathering oral history that reflect ACT UP as an initiative emerging from well-educated gay white men with an inherent sense of empowerment commensurate with their rage and compassion. Along the way, we do get to see and hear from female advocates and activists--media-savvy Ann Northrop, future journalist Garance Franke-Ruta and pharmaceutical chemist Iris Long, PhD, among a few others.
Essential history can easily be lost. In a climate of right-wing backlash, it can get twisted. New generations of social activists working on marriage equality, transgender rights, immigrant rights and many other progressive issues today need to learn about these shoulders upon which they stand. And we all need a blade of truth to disrupt the nasty fog of culture war that has arisen once again in our country.
[Update: Frank Bruni writes about this documentary in the March 17 New York Times--The Living After the Dying.]
See a screening of How to Survive A Plague at the 2012 New Directors/New Films Festival at the following locations:
Saturday, March 24, 9pm
Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue), Manhattan
Monday, March 26, 6pm
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53r Street (between 5th And 6th Avenues), Manhattan
How to Survive A Plague Web site
How to Survive A Plague Facebook page
Information on New Directors/New Films