Published Nov 01, 2012It's incredible to think that as recently as the '90s, contracting HIV was a death sentence, yet here we are in the 21st Century and North Americans afflicted with the disease are living longer than ever, many with only a trace of it in their systems.
With more than a generation having been born since the start of the AIDS epidemic in 1981, many have no idea the struggle activists went through to get the government and drug companies to treat their life-and-death plight with the urgency it so desperately required.
David France's How to Survive a Plague aims to change this by bringing to light the history of the anti-AIDS movement that originated in NYC in the '80s. It was the work of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), which emerged from Greenwich Village, an area of NYC hardest hit by the ailment, relentlessly challenging homophobia, public misconceptions and an apathetic government.
Eventually turning their attention to the National Institutes of Health and the plethora of drug companies that were dragging their heels in the area of AIDS treatment research, the activists worked hard to stay ahead of bureaucracy by using creative demonstration tactics, fuelled by their desperation and anger. It wasn't until 1997 that the now famous "three-drug cocktail" came to be, which proved effective in staving off the symptoms of AIDS, although sadly millions had already passed.
Utilizing archival news footage, blended with VHS home movies created by the activists, as well as present-day interviews that look back on this chapter of social history, an insightful portrait has been painted of an era that was both dismaying and inspirational.
Refraining from painting the activists as saints, How to Survive a Plague remains an unbiased account of a militant fight and subsequent triumph. One can only hope our younger generation can learn something from this film and will actually have some appropriate thought in their heads the next time they slap on a red ribbon for AIDS awareness. (Mongrel Media)