Maybe I just wasn't in a documentary mood today. After watching Searching for Sugar Man, which underperformed expectations, I immediately switched to another Oscar-nominated documentary feature, the much heralded How to Survive a Plague. While good, it too was not the groundbreaking film it was supposed to be.
How to Survive a Plague focuses on the work of two activist groups who fought the government in the 1980s and 1990s to recognize AIDS as a serious pandemic. It's a well made documentary and an intriguing look at what went on behind the scenes...
But really, isn't this old news?
I grew up in the '80s and '90s and watched how the reaction to AIDS has transformed over my lifetime; I have witnessed how it has evolved from a deadly disease to something that is at least manageable (albeit still a very serious worldwide issue). So while How to Survive a Plague focuses on the efforts that went into making this all possible, the documentary seems ten years too late in the making.
Nevertheless, filmmaker David France has made a detailed and largely engaging documentary that does what it was designed to do. The film is fast-paced and paints a vivid picture of the struggles that occurred over the last several decades - and points out the unfortunate hypocrisy of the government's approach to battling the disease.
I did not intend to write such a scathing review. How to Survive a Plague is well done, but compared to leading documentaries of recent years, it isn't as riveting as I'd expect of an Oscar-nominee.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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