A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to interview David France, a journalist and filmmaker who most recently wrote and directed the movie How to Survive a Plague, which has been nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards. The film details the work of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), an activist organization that started in NYC’s Greenwich Village in 1987 in response to the rapidly growing and lethal AIDS epidemic among the gay population. Through political action like protests, public funeral ceremonies, and storming the buildings of the National Institutes of Health, ACT UP initiated ‘treatment activism,’ accelerating the development and distribution of AIDS treatment drugs and changing the pharmaceutical industry’s closed door research and development process to one that incorporated the insight and research of activists themselves. I wanted to learn more about what compelled him to create a film focused on this specific strain of activism, and how he saw the work of ACT UP being relevant to movements today.
My favorite of his responses was when I asked him if there were things that he wished had made it into the film but had to be cut because of the evolving narrative, and what those omissions were. I thought his answer was particularly moving:
“You know what? What broke my heart was leaving out people. People that did amazing things. Even in this very small line of inquiry that I brought to it, which is treatment activism. Other people were working on housing and prevention and pediatric issues, IV drug use issues. Even in just treatment activism I left out a huge number of players, many of whom died, whose lives in the last years were dedicated to this altruistic struggle to change the world of science and medicine. And they ultimately succeeded.”
The full transcript of the interview was published this morning over at The 2×2 Project, so head on over to read everything he had to say. Also check out Mr. France’s website, which has the archives of his incredible journalistic career, which he spent covering HIV and AIDS for years. And of course, I encourage everyone to see the film to witness just how far these grassroots activists got in advocating for and ensuring access to life-saving treatments and the disbursement of research that literally helped save millions of lives.