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Featured DVD Review: How to Survive a Plague

February 25th, 2013

How to Survive a Plague - Buy from Amazon

How to Survive a Plague opened with perfect reviews and became one of the major documentaries during Awards Season, including earning an Oscar nomination. It didn't win the Oscar, but obviously that still sets up really high expectations. Can it possibly live up to these expectations? And if so, is the DVD worth buying over just renting?

The Movie

The film begins in 1987 at the beginning of ACT UP, which was formed in response to the AIDS epidemic, which was mostly seen as a gay disease (the first name for the disease was GRID, or gay-related immune deficiency) and as such wasn't seen as a priority for a lot of people. In fact, at this time, it was seen by a substantial amount of people as divine punishment. I'm old enough to remember a little of this, although I was far to young to be political active at the time. ACT UP helped move public policy, but also helped move the science. This is part of the story I was unaware of.

How to Survive a Plague is divided between interviews with many of the people central to the movement, including some who were living with AIDS, those in the LGBT community who were losing friends to the disease, scientists, medical practitioners, and others. There is also a ton of archival footage. When ACT UP started, the home video craze was just starting, so it feels like there were lots of cameras at every protest, every meeting, etc. This gives the film a very unique perspective, as we are not just limited to recollections, which are faulty at best, but we get to see the activists and their targets react as the events unfolded. We see the emotions while they are still raw. That's not to say there are no emotions in the interviews recorded for this film. A lot of people lost a lot of friends and it is clear some of the survivors have Survivor's Guilt over this.

There is enough humor and hope in the movie to help deal with some of the heavier moments and overall, How to Survive a Plague is one of the best documentaries I've seen in a while.

The Extras

The only extras are six deleted scenes with a total running time of 14 minutes.

The Verdict

How to Survive a Plague in an incredible movie and while there are not a lot of extras on the DVD, it is still worth picking up over just renting.


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