“How To Survive A Plague,” the first film by documentary filmmaker David France, was announced Thursday as an Oscar nominee, making the cut with four other documentary films vying for Best Documentary Feature in the upcoming Academy Awards. The film, which traces the history of AIDS activism and the successful fight by activists to jump-start the process of pharmaceutical research and develop new life-saving drugs, has already racked up many awards on its path to the red carpet, including a “Best Documentary” win at the high-profile Gotham Independent Film Awards in November.
Also vying for the documentary Oscar: “The Gatekeepers,” a film about Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet; “5 Broken Cameras,” about the Israeli-Palestine conflict; “The Invisible War,” about sexual assault in the U.S. military; and “Searching For Sugar Man,” about an obscure American musician in the ’70s who became sensationally popular in South Africa.
Many documentaries have been made about AIDS and the activism that sprang up around it in the ’80s and ’90s. But “How To Survive A Plague” is different: It’s an exuberant success story. Gawker writer Rich Juzwiak dubbed the film — tongue only slightly in cheek — “How To Make An Uplifting Documentary About AIDS.”
In an interview with GLAAD published in September, on the film’s opening weekend, France said that AIDS activism has transformed U.S. healthcare for the better:
A number of years ago, while I was working on a piece for New York magazine about the dark chapter of AIDS in America before the advent of effective therapies in 1996, one of the people I interviewed told me, “A lot of good came out of the AIDS epidemic.” At first this struck me as wildly inappropriate. I had painful memories of all the bad things from back then, all the death and anger and political disregard. All the loss. But of course he was right. AIDS and AIDS activism revolutionized every aspect of health care and gave us the patient-centered system we have today.
France, a longtime journalist and magazine feature writer, is known locally as a part-time New Kingston resident, and owner — with his husband Jonathan Starch — of the Galli-Curci Theatre in Margaretville.