From a terrible epidemic comes a beautiful documentary. More than any other nonfiction work I’ve seen Josh Jackson Jersey , with far-reaching intelligence and grace, David France’s “How to Survive a Plague” relays what happened in the early years of AIDS. And what didn’t happen in terms of federal dollars spent on drug research.
How can a film on this topic be so inspiring? Because it’s about grass-roots politics in effective action. Vote how you like, but the subjects of this film could not and cannot be dismissed. Their tactics worked. France’s film keeps a tight focus on the activists of ACT UP, whose focal point was Greenwich Village in Manhattan, and who managed to combine civil disobedience Jason Kidd Jersey , legitimate pharmaceutical scholarship and sheer persistence amid all the dead and dying.
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The movie itself is a swift, fractious “how to” lesson in piecing together archival footage so that it tells a story without an imposed narrative. France begins in 1987, the sixth year of the epidemic. Criminally little had been done about AIDS by then; a diagnosis of HIV-positive meant death. Among others, North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms (“the devil,” says one ACT UP member) represented the voice and face of the opposition. Helms is heard here Grant Hill Jersey , in late ’80s footage, going on about “the homosexuallesbian crowd” and how the right of free speech, pertaining to ACT UP’s more vocal representatives, held only “as long as it doesn’t offend anybody else.”
ACT UP didn’t have time to worry about offense. Its protest tactics (tenting Helms’ Arlington, Va. George King Jersey , house with a 35-foot fake condom, for example) were designed to get attention. But “How to Survive a Plague” gets into the gray areas and the nitty-gritty, showing how key members of ACT UP learned to be taken seriously 鈥?by drug companies such as Merck; the National Institutes of Health; the Federal Drug Administration; and the press 鈥?in their mission to speed along drug trials and find something, or a combination of drugs, that could slow the casualties.
So many valiant heroes emerge in the film’s retelling. One of them Elie Okobo Jersey , playwright and activist Larry Kramer (“The Normal Heart”), is caught on camera in a spectacular outburst during a contentious ACT UP meeting yielding little in the way of meaningful results. “Plague!” he cries. “We’re in the middle of a plague and you behave like this?” What filmmaker France has done is pure service journalism: His film shows what these men and women were up against and how they learned to be effective politicians within bureaucracies they viewed as the complacent (or worse) enemy of the people. The ACT UP members captured on lo-fi video from the ’80s and ’90s, many of whom reflect on their younger selves in contemporary interview footage, only ever wanted what playwright and essayist Tony Kushner boiled down to two words in his epic “Angels in America”: more life.
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