David France’s documentary on ACT-UP and the early activists of the AIDS crisis is mandatory viewing, period. It’s devastingly wonderful. I’ve been waiting for the right time to catch this, thinking it might be depressing on some level. But it’s not. It’s celebratory and invigorating and a true memorial to those who are no longer with us and a testament to all who fought for treatment for everyone living with HIV and AIDS when the government and the drug companies didn’t care how many people were dying. This is 2013 and so for many seeing this film, I realize it’s a history lesson and that’s a good thing. France’s documentary combines archival footage of meetings, interviews, street activism along with newsreel footage, and present-day talking head commentary from the survivors. A true testament to my generation and the power of ordinary people to change the course of history. This is a must-see. A 5 out of 5. It’s been nominated for Academy Award Best Documentary Feature along with four other outstanding films.
Oh and one more thing. I came to ACT-UP fairly late in the game (mid-1990) when I moved to NYC. I saw them in person at the protests during the 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta where I was living. I was simultaneously enthralled and turned on as was anyone who came into contact with the group in its heyday. So when I finally moved to New York, I jumped right in as one of the foot soldiers. During the movie, I kept combing the footage for glimpses of friends and people I knew. I saw many, but then at the 59 minute mark they began discussing the Kennebunkport Die-In demo, the only out-of-town demo I participated in about 2 months after I moved to the city. My friends Rosser and Bobby were in town for Wigstock and I left them for a day to take a bus to Maine and protest then sitting President George HW Bush. I had no idea that day that I’d be leaving my visiting friends to make history. Here’s a screen grab of yours truly, my 15 milliseconds of proof that I am an activist. I recognized myself first by the ring, then by the nose. It has been 22 years after all. So the moral of this story is when your father tells you whatever you do, don’t get arrested, don’t listen to him. If the demo is organized like ours was, there will be volunteers who will be arrested. They still need lots of foot soldiers to help make history.
How to Survive a Plague is now available streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime. The DVD gets released on February 26, 2013.