documentary hack

How to Survive a Plague

David France

5 mins

3 key insights

Visual, audio & text

Academy Award-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague reveals the startling work of AIDs activist group ACT UP, and the long, emotional battle for medical treatments and healthcare during the 1980s epidemic.


How to Survive a Plague

How to Survive a Plague

by David France


By 1995, the worldwide death toll from AIDS had reached over eight million. With no cure in sight, those infected with HIV/AIDS had effectively been given a life sentence. In 1987, an activist group named ACT UP - AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power - formed in New York City to apply pressure to the government to put more funding and research into treating the virus and finding a cure.

How to Survive a Plague is director David France's first documentary. France, an investigative journalist who had covered the AIDS epidemic from its beginnings in 1981, gathered over 700 hours of archive footage to create the documentary.

How to Survive a Plague shows firsthand footage of ACT UP's meetings, powerful demonstrations, and protests that often turned violent. The documentary features emotional clips of members of the gay community in the 1980s coming to terms with their diagnoses and mourning friends and partners lost. In How to Survive a Plague, we see the unity of ACT UP and the group's unrelenting fight for medical treatments, healthcare rights, and overall, their right to life.

Favorite quote

What does a decent society do with people who hurt themselves because they're human: who smoke too much, who drive carelessly, who don't have safe sex? A decent society does not put people out to pasture and let them die because they've done a human thing.

- Robert Rafsky, ACT UP activist

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