The latest in a recent spate of AIDS-themed documentaries, "How to Survive a Plague" is an exceptional portrait of a community in crisis and the focused fury of its response.
Journalist-turned-filmmaker David France set out to make a "witness account" of 1980s Greenwich Village and the rise of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, better known as ACT UP. His film succeeds not just as a vivid chronicle of recent history but as a primer in grassroots activism.
France uses present-day interviews sparingly, to poignant effect, and wisely structures the film mainly from unofficial archives he dug up. Much of that footage was shot by frontline participants availing themselves of the newly accessible technology of camcorders, and it lends the doc an in-the-crucible immediacy.
Emerging six years after the first appearance of the "mystery disease," ACT UP stepped into a kind of dark ages, when the sick were still being turned away by many hospitals and the dead refused by funeral parlors.