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How to Survive a Plague


Faced with their own mortality, an improbable group of young people, many of them HIV-positive young men, broke the mold as radical warriors taking on Washington and the medical establishment.

HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE is the story of two coalitions—ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group)—whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. Despite having no scientific training, these self-made activists infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time. With unfettered access to a treasure trove of never-before-seen archival footage from the 1980s and '90s, filmmaker David France puts the viewer smack in the middle of the controversial actions, the heated meetings, the heartbreaking failures, and the exultant breakthroughs of heroes in the making.


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The Filmmakers

David France Director/Producer

David France is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author who has been writing about AIDS since 1982 and today is one of the best-known chroniclers of the epidemic. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, GQ, and New York magazine, where he is a contributing editor, and has received the National Headliner Award and the GLAAD Media Award, among others. Several films have been inspired by his work, most recently the Emmy-nominated Showtime film OUR FATHERS, for which he received a WGA nomination. He is at work on a major history of AIDS, due from Alfred A. Knopf in 2013. Based on decades of reporting, HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE is his directorial debut.

Howard Gertler Producer

Howard Gertler is a Oscar-nominated producer whose credits include David France’s HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE, which premiered in competition at Sundance 2012 and was released by IFC Films/Sundance Selects. The film was nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, and won the Gotham for Best Documentary, the New York Film Critics’ Circle Award for Best First Feature, the International Documentary Association’s Emerging Filmmaker Award and the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary. It was also a Film Independent Spirit Award Nominee. With John Cameron Mitchell & graphic novelist Dash Shaw, he produced the short film SERAPH for the band Sigur Ros, which premiered at Sundance 2013. Along with Tim Perell at Process (where Gertler was head of production 2001 through 2009), he won the 2007 Film Independent Spirit Producers’ Award for John Cameron Mitchell’s SHORTBUS, and in 2006 was named one of Variety’s Ten Producers To Watch. SHORTBUS premiered in the official selection in Cannes and was released worldwide.

Festivals & Awards

News & Documentary Emmy Awards


Nominee - Best Documentary

Nominee - Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Editing - Documentary and Long Form

Academy Awards


Nominee - Best Documentary Feature

Peabody Awards


Nominee - Documentary

Cinema Eye Honors Awards


Nominee - Outstanding Achievement in Editing

Nominee - Cinema Eye Audience Choice Prize

Nominee - Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film

GLAAD Media Awards


Winner - Best Documentary Feature

Independent Spirit Awards


Nominee - Best Documentary

DGA Awards


Nominee - Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary

Sundance Film Festival


Official Selection

IDA Documentary Awards


Winner - Jacqueline Donnet Emerging Filmmaker Award

Gotham Awards


Winner - Best Documentary

True/False Film Festival


Official Selection

San Francisco Film Festival


Official Selection

Independent Film Festival Boston


Official Selection

Winner - Audience Award Best Documentary 

AFI/Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival


Official Selection


The first documentary that I have seen that does justice to this story of a civil rights movement rising from the ashes of our dead.”

-The Daily Beast

Tells the story of these activists and the organisations they built... in compelling detail. Their fight was a Gandhian one—using the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience, the creativity of the gay community, and the effective but tough slog of grassroots participatory democracy.”

-The Lancet

Served powerfully, with minimal adornment... A moving and meticulous documentary about AIDS activism in the late '80s and early '90s.”

-The New York Times

An epic celebration of heroism and tenacity, and less directly, a useful template for any fledgling activist movement, demonstrating the effectiveness of inside/outside strategy.”

-The Hollywood Reporter