HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (David France). 107 mins. Opens Friday (November 2). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN
As a chronicle of the New York-based AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, aka Act Up, and its nine-year struggle to have drugs produced and made available for the treatment of an epidemic that began with a 100 per cent fatality rate, journalist David France's documentary debut is at once immensely moving and historically important. It also offers a model of startlingly effective activism from which we still have much to learn.
France draws upon an incredible wealth of archival material. Right from Act Up's formation in 1987, camcorders were at work documenting every development. And because Act Up's visibility increased so rapidly (putting a giant condom on Jesse Helms's house didn't hurt, and neither did scattering the ashes of those who had died of AIDS on the White House lawn), there's plenty of TV footage woven into How To Survive A Plague as well.
Key to the org's success was its early understand of the nascent science of AIDS, which won its members seats at the table with medical researchers and manufacturers.
After several devastating setbacks, triumph ultimately took the shape of a drug cocktail that has prolonged millions of lives.
Meanwhile, the search for a cure continues.