How to Survive a Plague

How to Survive a Plague

About the Film

In the dark days of 1987, America was six years into the AIDS epidemic, a crisis that was still largely being ignored both by government officials and health organizations — until the sudden emergence of the activist group ACT UP in Greenwich Village, New York, largely made up of HIV-positive participants who refused to die without a fight. Along with TAG (Treatment Action Group), and emboldened by the power of rebellion, they took on the challenges that 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. MORE

Their efforts would see them seize the reins of federal policy from the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) and NIH (National Institutes of Health), force the AIDS conversation into the 1992 presidential election, and guide the way to the discovery of effective AIDS drugs that turned an HIV diagnosis from a death sentence into a chance to live long and healthy lives.

First-time director David France culls from a huge amount of never-before-seen archival footage — most of it shot by the protestors themselves (31 videographers are credited) — to create not just an historical document, but an intimate and visceral recreation of the period through the very personal stories of some of ACT UP and TAG’s leading participants. How to Survive a Plague captures both the joy and terror of those days, and the epic day-by-day battles that finally made AIDS survival possible.

The Filmmaker

David France is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author who has been writing about AIDS since 1982, beginning in gay community papers. Today he is one of the best-known chroniclers of the epidemic, having continued in The New York Times, where he was AIDS news writer in the 1990s; Newsweek, where he was senior editor for investigations until 2003; and GQ and New York magazine, where he is a contributing editor. France has received the National Headliner Award and the GLAAD Media Award, and has seen his work inspire several films, most recently the Emmy-nominated Showtime film Our Fathers. He is at work on a major history of AIDS, due out soon from Alfred A. Knopf.


Film Credits

Directed by
David France

Written by
David France
T. Woody Richman
Tyler H. Walk

Produced by
Howard Gertler
David France

Executive Producer
Joy Tomchin

Executive Producer
Dan Cogan

Co-Executive Producer
Alan Getz

T. Woody Richman
Stan Tomchin
Henry Van Ameringen

Associate Producers
Jim Hubbard
Peggy Farber
Lindy Linder
Chad Hahne
Loring McAlpin

Edited by
T. Woody Richman
Tyler H. Walk

Director of Photography
Derek Wiesehahn

Archival Cinematographers
Tony Arena
Bill Bahlman
Gregg Bordowitz
David Buckingham
Jean Carlomusto
Andrew Chang
Vincent Gagliostro
Catherine Gund
Spence Halperin
Babette Krolik
Shraga Lev
Lou Maletta (1936-2011)
Tim McCarthy
Ray Navarro (1964-1990)
Costa Pappas (1963-1989)
John Schabel
Ellen Spiro
Barbara Starrett
Testing The Limits
James Wentzy
John Z Wetmore
Steve Zabel (1949-1989)
Phil Zwicker (1954-1991)

Original Score by
Stuart Bogie and Luke O'Malley

Featuring the Songs of
Arthur Russell

Music Supervision
The Red Hot Organization
John Carlin
Béco Dranoff
Paul Heck

Sound Edit and Mix
Lora Hirschberg

Archival Footage and Photos
ABCNews Videosource
Gregg Bordowitz, "Fast Trip, Long Drop" (1994)
Gregg Bordowitz and Jean Carlomusto, "Seize Control of the FDA" from the GMHC "Living With AIDS" Series (1988)
Charlie Rose
DIVA TV Collective, "Like A Prayer" (1990) and "Target City Hall" (1989)
Carl Michael George, "DHPG, Mon Amour" (1989)
Robert Hilferty, "Stop The Church" (1990)
Robert Hilferty & Bob Huff, "TAG Helms" (1991)
Bob Huff, "Rockville is Burning" (1989)
Merck & Co., Inc.
NBC Universal Archives
Mary Patierno, "The Most Unknowable Thing" (1999)
Jerry Tartaglia, "See For Yourself" (1995)


Score Produced by
Stuart Bogie and Luke O'Malley

Original Score Recorded and Mixed by
John Davis

Clarinet/Bass Clarinet/Saxophone/
Stuart Bogie

Keyboard/Flute/Percussion/Guitar/Voice/Electric Bass/Keyboard
Luke O'Malley

Jared Samuel

Electric bass/Keyboard/Piano/Percussion
Nikhil Yerawadekar

Miles Arntzen

Eric Biondo

Rubin Kodheli
Topu Lyo

Double Bass
Kris Saebo

Caleb Burhans

Ryan Ferreira

Kronos Quartet

Violin - David Harrington
Violin - John Sherba
Viola - Hank Dutt
Cello - Jefferey Zeigler

Kronos Quartet Recorded and Mixed by
Scott Fraser

Kronos Management
Kronos Performing Arts Association

"That's Us/Wild Combination"
Performed and Arranged by Superhuman Happiness
Written by Charles Arthur Russell Jr. (ASCAP)
Courtesy of Domino Publishing Company Ltd.

"Come to Life"
Performed by Arthur Russell
Written by Charles Arthur Russell Jr. (ASCAP)
Courtesy of Audika Records LLC / Rough Trade Records Ltd./
Domino Publishing Company Ltd.

“Answer Me”
Performed by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Written by J. Bignon (BMI)
Taken from the Album "100 Days, 100 Nights"
Courtesy of Daptone Records

"I'll be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You"
Performed by Louis Prima
Written by Sam Theard
Used by Permission of EMI Mills Music, Inc.
Courtesy of Capitol Records
Under License from EMI Film & Television Music

"Soon-To-Be Innocent Fun/Let's See"
Performed by Arthur Russell
Written by Charles Arthur Russell Jr. (ASCAP)
Courtesy of Audika Records LLC/Rough Trade Records Ltd./ Domino Publishing Company Ltd.

Performed by Riceboy Sleeps
Words and Music by Jon Thor Birgisson, Alex Kendall Somers
Universal - PolyGram International Publishing Inc.
On Behalf of Universal Music Publishing Ltd. (BMI)
Licensed Courtesy of XL Recordings
by Arrangement with Beggars Group Media Limited

"Keeping Up"
Performed and Arranged by Superhuman Happiness
Written by Charles Arthur Russell Jr. (ASCAP)
Used by Permission of Echo & Feedback
Newsletter Music (ASCAP)
Administered by Bug

In Memoriam

Ortez Alderson
Charles Barber
David Conover
Keith Cylar
Brian Damage
David B. Feinberg
Mark Lowe Fisher
Robert Garcia
Jeff Gates
Keith Haring
Thomas Hannan
Larry Kert
David W. Kline
James Lyons
Ray Navarro
David Patierno
Howie Pope
Joseph Porrello
Bob Rafsky
Ken Ramsauer
Darrell Yates Rist
Vito Russo
Randy Snyder
Danny Sotomayor
David Stern
Phil Zwickler
And the others who appeared in this film and whose fates are unknown.

For Doug Gould (1959-1992)

Funding Provided by

Ford Foundation/JustFilms
Jes Staley
Sundance Institute Documentary Fund
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS
The Ted Snowdon Foundation
The Calamus Foundation
The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund
The Lizzie and Jonathan M. Tisch Foundation
The Steve Tisch Foundation
New York State Council on the Arts

How To Survive A Plague was produced by How to Survive a Plague LLC, and
Public Square Films, in association with Impact Partners and Little Punk.

This program was produced by How to Survive a Plague LLC,
which is solely responsible for its content.

© 2012 How to Survive a Plague LLC. All rights reserved.

Do you remember the early days of the AIDS crisis? How far would you go to fight for a cure to a disease directly or indirectly affecting your life?


  • 2013 Academy Award Nomination
    Best Documentary Feature
  • 2012 New York Film Critics Circle Award
    Best First Film
  • 2013 George Foster Peabody Awards
    Award Winner
Do you remember the early days of the AIDS crisis? How far would you go to fight for a cure to a disease directly or indirectly affecting your life?