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Independent Lens Programs

Independent Lens | How to Survive a Plague

Watch Monday, December 30, 2013 at midnight on WMHT TV.

How to Survive a Plague tells the story of two coalitions, ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), whose fearless 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, heated meetings, heartbreaking failures, and exultant breakthroughs of heroes in the making. 

In the dark days of 1987, the country was six years into the AIDS epidemic, a crisis that was still being largely ignored by government officials and health organizations — until the sudden emergence of the activist group ACT UP in Greenwich Village. Largely made up of HIV-positive participants who refused to die without a fight, they took on the challenges public officials had ignored, raising awareness of the disease through a series of dramatic protests. More remarkably, they became recognized experts in virology, biology, and pharmaceutical chemistry. Their efforts would see them seize the reins of federal policy from the FDA and NIH, force the AIDS conversation into the 1992 presidential election, and lead the way to the discovery of effective AIDS drugs that saved countless lives.

The monumental building that was supposed to last forever was destroyed after 53 years.

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