Watch the official trailer for David France’s HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE, a stunning, inspirational documentary that bears witness to how a committed group of activists fighting for their own lives demanded the attention of an apathetic nation, equipped themselves with the knowledge and courage to survive, and in turn saved the lives of millions of others.
After receiving standing ovations at film festivals around the country—including Sundance, New Directors/New Films, San Francisco and Outfest—the film will open in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco on Friday, September 21 from Sundance Selects, with a national release to follow.
HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE is the story of the brave young men and women who successfully reversed the tide of an epidemic, demanded the attention of a fearful nation and stopped AIDS from becoming a death sentence. This improbable group of activists bucked oppression and, with no scientific training, infiltrated government agencies and the pharmaceutical industry, helping to identify promising new medication and treatments and move them through trials and into drugstores in record time. In the process, they saved their own lives and ended the darkest days of a veritable plague, while virtually emptying AIDS wards in American hospitals in the process. The powerful story of their fight is a classic tale of empowerment and activism that has since inspired movements for change in everything from breast cancer research to Occupy Wall Street. Their story stands as a powerful inspiration to future generations, a road map, and a call to arms. This is how you change the world.
Official Selection: Sundance Film Festival, New Directors/New films, San Francisco International FF, Provincetown FF, Outfest Documentary Centerpiece, Seattle International FF
“Words like ‘important’ and ‘inspiring’ tend too often to be meaninglessly attached to non-fiction filmmaking, but in the case of David France’s compelling snapshot of a revolutionary period in AIDS treatment, they are amply justified… An epic celebration of heroism and tenacity, and less directly, a useful template for any fledgling activist movement, demonstrating the effectiveness of inside/outside strategy.”
-David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“I sat down to watch “How to Survive a Plague,” a new documentary about the history of the AIDS epidemic, expecting to cry, and cry I did…I expected to be angry. Here, too, I wasn’t disappointed. What I didn’t expect was how much hope I would feel. How much comfort. While the movie vividly chronicles the wages of bigotry and neglect, it even more vividly chronicles how much society can budge when the people exhorting it to are united and determined and smart and right. The fight in us eclipses the sloth and surrender, and the good really does outweigh the bad. That’s a takeaway of ‘How to Survive a Plague,’ and that’s a takeaway of the AIDS crisis as well.”
-Frank Bruni, The New York Times
In the dark days of 1987, the country was six years into the AIDS epidemic, a crisis that was still largely being ignored both by government officials and health organizations—until the sudden emergence of the activist group ACT UP in Greenwich Village, largely made up of HIV-positive participants who refused to die without a fight. Emboldened by the power of rebellion, they took on the challenges that public officials had ignored, raising awareness of the disease through a series of dramatic protests. More remarkably, they became recognized experts in virology, biology and pharmaceutical chemistry. Their efforts would see them seize the reins of federal policy from the FDA and NIH, force the AIDS conversation into the 1992 presidential election, and guide the way to the discovery of effective AIDS drugs that stopped an HIV diagnosis from being an automatic death sentence—and allowed them to live long lives.First-time director and award-winning journalist David France (who has been covering the AIDS crisis for 30 years), culls from a huge amount of archival footage—most of it shot by the protestors themselves (30 videographers are credited)—to create not just an historical document, but an intimate and visceral recreation of the period through the very personal stories of some of ACT UP’s leading participants. A handbook for all activists who want to make change, HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE captures both the joy and terror of those days, and the epic day-by-day battles that finally made AIDS survival possible.
Peter Staley in a scene from David France’s HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE. Photo by William Lucas Walker. A Sundance Selects release.
David France, director of HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE. Photo by Karine Laval. A Sundance Selects release.