Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2012. Public Square Films, Ninety Thousand Words, Ted Snowdon Foundation. Screenplay by David France, Todd Woody Richman, Tyler H. Walk. Cinematography by Derek Wiesehahn. Produced by David France, Howard Gertler. Music by Stuart Bogie, Luke O’Malley, Arthur Russell. Production Design by Grant Nellessen. Film Editing by Woody Richman, Tyler H. Walk. Academy Awards 2012. Boston Film Critics Awards 2012. Dorian Awards 2012. Gotham Awards 2012. Independent Spirit Awards 2012. New York Film Critics Awards 2012.
The AIDS crisis is a full-blown epidemic by the late eighties, with public information a mess of ignorance while patients are scrambling to find something to give them hope for survival. Medical advances are few and far between, and what little hope that comes from scientific research is barred by so much bureaucratic red tape (not to mention economics, given how expensive medication is when it does become available) that it looks like it will be decades before the FDA allows medicine to treat AIDS patients. From this terrifying snake pit rises the hope of ACT UP, an organization made up of activists, some of them afflicted by the disease themselves, who protest, march, sit-in and inspire no end of agitation in the name of getting the government to give the epidemic the attention it deserves. The result is triumphant, though complicated: ACT UP inspired medical breakthroughs that might not have happened without their effort, but at the cost of many lives and conflicts within their organization (the centerpiece of the film is terrifc footage of Larry Kramer silencing a spate of bickering with his pronouncement of a plague). What this terrifying documentary does is take you right back into the epicentre of the madness, with visceral footage that recalls the crisis at its most terrifying. It’s the rowdiest of the three AIDS documentaries made within the same year (the other two being the lyrical Vito and the incredibly moving We Were Here), and makes a perfect companion to them, less interested in delving to the depths of the emotional experience of the situation and more noisy in its celebration of what persistence can accomplish. Not that it focuses on the political group at the expense of personal introspection, however: the results of both the illness as well as the back-breaking effort of activism is felt by a number of members who are focused on, some of them survivors and some of them not. The film simultaneously reminds us that AIDS is still in existence and cannot be thought of as a situation of the past, but it’s also a very inspiring and powerful celebration of a group of people who are in so many ways responsible for the improved knowledge and treatment with which the disease is treated now (…at least in the western world).