kaos at the 27th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival

How To Survive A Plague

"Greenwich Village, the mid-1980s. With the city’s formerly thriving gay population hit hard by the AIDS epidemic, the community became increasing despondent by the lack of treatments available and the apparent resistance from both the government and drug manufacturers to seek new cures. With time running out, hundreds of activists took to the streets, demanding research into new drug development. In the face of such crippling adversity, a community was forced to become its own doctors, its own pharmacists and ultimately its own saviours. Largely comprised of astonishing archive footage of political rallies, activist workshops and interviews with inspirational activists, How to Survive a Plague is a deserving nominee for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards®. A vital and rousing chronicle of how a community united to fight for their lives, demanding change and the respect they deserved."

In a way, it's not surprising that How To Survive A Plague ended up with an Oscar nomination. Here we have a story of incredible bravery, with a good-looking hero - Peter Staley - facing a seemingly insurmountable task. There's a pantomime villain (well, several) and a happy ending.

Of course, that's simplifying things. Peter Staley isn't the only hero of the piece (but he's one of the few who survived) and the happy ending is qualified, and it's not for everyone.

Everything you've heard about this picture is true. It's almost unbelievable. This is the story of AIDS that hasn't been heard before (film-maker David France points out that books, films and plays have tended to concentrate on the beginning of the epidemic - Plague starts six years into it) and it's told with amazing archive footage (Larry Kramer's "plague speech" is jaw-dropping). France himself was stunned at the sheer amount of footage he had available to him.

I'm halfway through my LLGFF schedule, and I doubt anything will top Plague. It's the biggie. Not only is it incredibly compelling, heartbreaking, enraging, affirming, but it's real, and probably the most important story about the gay community never told.

Tonight I'm seeing United in Anger: A History of ACT UP.
Check back for my review tomorrow!


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