“How to Survive a Plague” Debuts in San Francisco, Chronicling Early Days of AIDS Activism


WHAT:  “How to Survive a Plague”
                San Francisco International Film Festival

WHEN:  Friday, April 20, at 9:00 pm
               Sunday, April 22, at 6:00 pm

WHERE:  Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco

A stirring HIV/AIDS documentary chronicling the early days of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and its splinter group TAG (Treatment Action Group) is coming to San Francisco, co-presented by San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the San Francisco Film Society. “How to Survive a Plague” makes its San Francisco debut at two screenings this month at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Harnessing collective anger at the government, as well as at the scientific community and pharmaceutical industry, a ragtag group of HIV-positive gay men and their supporters coalesced in New York City in 1987 to form ACT UP. They called for acknowledgment of the widespread AIDS epidemic, and demanded patient rights and more effective and affordable treatment options.

“How to Survive a Plague” recalls ACT UP’s controversial tactics, hard-won triumphs, and tragic setbacks. The film highlights pivotal moments in the organization’s history: a provocative kiss-in, the hopeful introduction of the early drug AZT, marches and arrests at FDA and NIH headquarters, fearless confrontations with anti-gay Republican senator Jesse Helms. Infighting led some members to form the more suit-and-tied TAG, which hastened clinical studies of the “AIDS cocktail” drug combinations that have since made the disease a manageable condition rather than an almost certain death sentence.

“The early days of ACT UP set the stage for more than a decade of grassroots activism that forced our country’s pharmaceutical and medical systems to respect patients’ rights and speed up access to life-saving therapies,” said Don Howard, member of ACT UP Golden Gate and San Francisco AIDS Foundation Board of Directors. “We sometimes take these advances for granted, and we all owe the men and woman of ACT UP a huge debt of gratitude for their tireless and ingenious activism.”

The film is directed by David France, an award-winning journalist and bestselling author who has written about AIDS and related issues since 1982. He weaves together fascinating archival footage with present-day interviews with activists, including Larry Kramer and Gregg Bordowitz, to create a sweeping history that is both mournful and joyous. 

Click here for information about the festival and to purchase tickets.

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About San Francisco AIDS Foundation
No city experienced epidemic levels of HIV faster than San Francisco. At San Francisco AIDS Foundation, we work to end the epidemic where it first took hold, and eventually everywhere. Established in 1982, our mission is the radical reduction of new infections in San Francisco. Through education, advocacy, and direct services for prevention and care, we are confronting HIV in communities most vulnerable to the disease. We refuse to accept that HIV transmission is inevitable.

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