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‘How to Survive a Plague’ enlightens audience about AIDS epidemic

Posted on February 20, 2013 | by Nora Blake


The last 20 years of the 20th century were marred by the spread of the AIDS virus. Yet much has been concealed regarding the powerful medical advances that made treatment, and most importantly survival, possible. Chronicling the heart of the AIDS epidemic, first-time director David France’s “How to Survive a Plague” reveals the hidden story of struggle and rebellion that defined countless Americans looking to eradicate the illness. The film is nominated for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards.

“My main goal as a filmmaker was to inform and inspire those who were unaware of the grassroots organizations that pushed to change the mortality of AIDS,” France said. France was drawn to capture their lives on film because of their tenacity in face of the illness.

“What was so extraordinary about their journey was that they were ordinary people who left audacious legacies for the future, and ultimately a positive and modern sense of hope,” he said.

France’s extensive and impressive background in journalism aided him in uncovering the harsh realities of this period in American history.

“I stick with a story long enough so that it tells the truth to me,” he said.

Using a substantial archive of unbroadcast news clips found in the New York Public Library, France succeeded in creating a film that is not only historically accurate but also forcefully poignant in its portrayal of those who fought for the research and government involvement necessary to eliminate AIDS in the United States.

“This story could have been told at any time during or after the efforts of these [research] organizations, but I believe the story of triumph would have been compensated if it were to have been made earlier,” France said. “It would have been too close to the tragedy of the many deaths mentioned in the film.”

“Modern patient advocacy was uprooted and began to thrive as a result of these heroes, and their efforts stand in the many treatments and miracle drugs that are now available for anyone in the world affected by AIDS.”

Although France is thrilled about the film’s critical acclaim, he has kept himself engrossed in many other projects related to AIDS activism such as a book about the untold story of the response to AIDS before the crisis.

“How to Survive a Plague” leaves viewers more conscious of the achievements of these incredible activist organizations, such as ACT UP, which meets every Monday at New York’s LGBT Center on West 13th Street.

In response to the upsetting disconnect between the general public and the awareness of this ongoing struggle, France had a simple response.

“I made this for you,” he said.

Nora Blake is a contributing writer. Email her at


  • Mary McPherson

    I loved the article and am looking forward to seeing this important movie!

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Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

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News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


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Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

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Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

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