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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.


December 31, 1969

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Festivals & Awards

Sundance Film Festival 2012

Official Selection

Independent Spirit Awards 2012

Winner, Best Documentary

IDA Awards 2012

Winner, Best First Film

New York Film Critics Circle 2012

Winner, Best First Feature

Gotham Awards 2012

Winner, Best Documentary

Academy Awards 2012

Nominee, Best Documentary Feature


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


The team from HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE offers a variety of ways to engage, including this sampling of organizations from around the world with histories of success fighting for the rights, health and safety of people living with, and affected by, HIV/AIDS—as well as related conditions.

Outreach Resources

AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (ACRIA)

ACRIA focuses on educating patients and health care providers about treatment options and guides them on how best to navigate the complexities of health care. Founded in 1991 as the Community Research Initiative on AIDS (ACRIA) by a group of physicians, activists and people living with the virus who were frustrated by the slow pace of government and academic AIDS research, the organization has since helped develop medications that allow people living with HIV to live longer, healthier lives.


AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP)

ACT UP played an integral role in accelerating the development, approval and dissemination of life-sustaining drugs for people with HIV/AIDS. Known for their often shocking, and effective, demonstrations (disrupting Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, human ashes thrown onto the White House lawn), the members of ACT UP continue to unite in anger engaging in direct action to end the AIDS pandemic. Their “Civil Disobedience Manual” is a must-read for any activist. The story of how ACT UP has helped saved many lives is documented in How to Survive a Plague.


Greater Than Aids

The website offers one of the most comprehensive sets of resources for individuals to get informed and take action on HIV/AIDS at a variety of levels.  Greater Than AIDS is a long-term, multi-platform educational media project created by the Kaiser Family Foundation in partnership with The Black AIDS Institute. Leading supporters include the U.S. Center for Disease Control, Elton John AIDS Foundation, Ford Foundation and Walgreens (a major private sector partner). Greater Than AIDS’ “Pride” initiative offers targeted media content and outreach to the LGBTQ Community in the U.S.


Treatment Action Group (TAG)

The independent AIDS research and policy think tank comprised of science-based treatment activists fights for better treatment, education and access to care for people with HIV. They also focus on accelerating vital research and effective community engagement with research and policy institutions in pursuit of vaccines and a cure. TAG’s indomitable Mark Harrington is featured in How to Survive a Plague.