David France's scintillating and emotional Act Up documentary How to Survive a Plague, a hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival and our New Director/New Films festival with MoMA, opens today in theaters in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.
Stephen Holden of the New York Times had this to say: “The currents of rage, fear, fiery determination and finally triumph that crackle through David France’s inspiring documentary, 'How to Survive a Plague,' lend this history of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power a scorching electrical charge… The film is a briskly paced, straightforward chronology made up largely of footage shot mostly by the protesters (31 videographers are credited) and told in their voices. As the documentary gallops forward, it conveys the urgency of a desperate race against time.”
Revisit our podcast interview with director David France and producer Howard Gertler from Sundance and see the film this weekend!
Some highlights from the interview:
“To have the ability to tell a true story through archival footage is incredible. There's over 700 hours of it that David had mined, shot from multiple cameras at various demos in the 80s and 90s. You could actually cut the movie as you would a scripted film, modulate the drama and the pace, develop character, in a way that's completely accurate to what happened but that also really puts you in the moment. I think one of the biggest compliments we got was from one of the people who was at the original demos; she said, 'it was like you knew exactly where to put the cameras.'”
“All of the thinking about the plague years of the epidemic focused on the first half of the plague: what it was like to experience the arrival of a mysterious new virus, and how dramatic and horrible its toll was. The truth about the plague years is really richer than that: it's about how a group of people responded to an epidemic, and what they did to wrestle a virus into control.”
“I wanted to tell a story that showed how AIDS itself and the people's response to AIDS was revolutionary: how it changed health care, how it changed the way drugs were researched, including the interaction of patients and doctors. All of those facets of the health care experience we have today are a gift, really, from this revolutionary encounter between patients and drug researchers and regulators.”
“The camcorder came to us the same time that the virus did. HIV arrived in '81, the camcorder in '82. And, as a reporter, I was on the beat to cover AIDS and AIDS science, and I knew that those cameras were there at every turn. And it occurred to me, theoretically, that if those tapes could be found, and if they could be mined, it might be possible to find a narrative, human story that takes you through that ten-year journey. And, remarkably, it was there: although a lot of the filmmakers hadn't survived, their body of work had been saved by family members, lovers or friends, as an emblem of the work they did in the crisis.”