I’m not sure I can bear to watch this documentary in a public theatre — and I am one of the lucky ones, who didn’t lose dear friends or family members to the AIDS plague.
Here’s the film’s website, which is link-intensive & highly informative.
In the dark days of 1987, the country 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, largely made up of HIV-positive participants who refused to die without a fight. 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. Their efforts would see them seize the reins of federal policy from the FDA and NIH, force the AIDS conversation into the 1992 presidential election, and guide the way to the discovery of effective AIDS drugs that stopped an HIV diagnosis from being an automatic death sentence – and allowed them to live long lives.
From Wesley Morris’ review in the Boston Globe:
Sometimes when the gay activist and playwright Larry Kramer goes on a tear, when he really lays into somebody about being politically lazy or not wearing a condom, you can feel inadequate, like just getting up every day and breathing isn’t enough. You hear rage, and you actually have to stop and ask yourself: Did I fight for something today?…
Kramer is not the central figure of this astonishing movie. He’s been given his due many times. He’s more the presiding spirit, the patron saint of moral castigation. That moment and most of the rest of the film is courtesy of camcorder footage. The director David France and his crew have sculpted years of old broadcast-news stories and home videos into a narrative that is impressionistic in its scope but coherent in its feeling. It seems passionately remembered. This movie is alive — hot, really — with the political seething at the federal government’s failure to help combat the spread of AIDS with effective medical treatments…
We’re now far enough from that era that seeing it all again feels like a slap to the face in the same way that watching certain moments in the civil rights epic “Eyes on the Prize” chills your bones. This doesn’t have that series’ stately magnitude. It’s smaller and crasser, but it’s comparatively galvanic. The material has been shaped in an artful manner that devastates, rouses, and shames. When France cuts to some of the TAG men in the sparingly used studio interviews, you realize you’re not simply looking at activists, you’re beholding war heroes. And then the inadequacy sets in: What did I fight for today?
And here’s the Globe‘s story about the man who made the film:
… “The story I wanted to tell is really a story of triumph,” said France, in town last spring for a screening at the Independent Film Festival Boston. “I thought, keep your tears to yourself. We’ll weep on the DVD extras.”
Despite the overwhelming tragedy of the AIDS era — since recognition of the virus in the early 1980s, HIV has taken the lives of tens of millions — France, an investigative reporter and first-time film director, said he doesn’t feel as though he’s telling “an AIDS story. The story is about activism and how it can work, how soaringly successful it can be.”
His film recounts the lives of some ordinary men and women — among them Peter Staley, a former bond trader who became the national media’s face of the AIDS crisis; Bob Rafsky, a divorced father who worked in PR but longed to be a writer; and Garance Franke-Ruta, a high school dropout who went on to graduate from Harvard and become a respected journalist — whose courage and determination helped raise mainstream awareness about the AIDS virus and hastened FDA approval of the drugs that have slowed the spread of the disease….