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Did the AIDS Doc 'How to Survive a Plague' Force Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch to Have a Change of Heart About ACT UP?

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire November 30, 2012 at 12:07PM

When David France was in the middle of production of his film "How to Survive a Plague" (Sundance '12 and an IFC Films/Sundance Selects release), which looks at the AIDS activist group ACT UP from its creation and most robust years through to challenges launched by the Treatment Action Group, he was made aware that former New York City mayor Ed Koch had caught wind of the film.
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Koch's review is especially strange, because in the weeks before, he had both unsubscribed from a press list after being invited to see "Plague" and written a commentary explaining why Putin was right to arrest Pussy Riot by comparing the band's anti-religious action to ACT UP's own protest action in St. Patrick's Cathedral, which, he admits in his review, he continues to find revolting. 

 
France explained to Indiewire how he interprets Koch's review, saying, "I think he saw for the first time why the community responded the way it did with a sense of urgency and fury with the tools of ridicule, embarrassment and condemnation. I think he saw it for the first time, and I think he saw what it accomplished."
 

Indiewire reached out to Koch to elaborate on his feelings about the film this week, but he responded by saying he had nothing left to say beyond what is in his review.

Koch's review was not the only surprise. The politics of Andrew Sullivan, the neoliberal gay HIV-positive Daily Beast columnist, are widely understood to be far removed from the kinds of revolutionary actions ACT UP engaged in (in his review, Sullivan explains how his HIV diagnosis pushed him along his own life journey as a writer). He was in New York, though, at the time, and had this to say about ACT UP and the film in his review from the Provincetown Film Festival:

ACT-UP had its problems. It would alienate people unnecessarily; it would polarize; it would disrupt religious services; it could be a parody of p.c. claptrap (some meetings were interminable victim-fests), and tiresomely accuse almost anyone not in ACT-UP of being a murderer (yes, I was busted more than once). And yet all of this was a function of rage and will that was and is inextricable from defeating the plague.

"How To Survive A Plague" is the first documentary that I have seen that does justice to this story of a civil rights movement rising from the ashes of our dead.

So in the end, Sullivan shows respect for the organization's work. 

This weekend, in recognition of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, the "Plague" team will be screening the film in more than 100 locations across the country. "Plague" also will be shown at a number of U.S. embassies around the world (especially, following the suggestion of a fan of the film who works in the Albanian embassy, in Eastern Europe) as a part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's initiative to include LGBT rights in human-rights efforts around the world.

A special Google+ Hangout On Air will host a conversation about AIDS activism with France, Staley and singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo Dec. 3 at 8 pm EST.

This article is related to: How to Survive a Plague, Queer Cinema, Activism, Documentary







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