In the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS, it is never a bad idea to reflect on the losses we’ve suffered, celebrate the advances we’ve made, and look forward to the struggles still ahead.
The last great plague of the 20th century, AIDS is a visual epidemic. The physical damage wrought on victims, the faces of discrimination and stigma, the determination of those who fight and demonstrate—these have been captured on screen in many different ways.
Below, we single out six groundbreaking AIDS documentaries you owe it to yourself to watch—or watch again.
“How to Survive a Plague” (2012)
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary, How to Survive a Plague traces how grassroots activists gamed the system and forced the FDA to approve protease inhibitors, a breakthrough that’s saved millions of lives.
Activist-turned-director David France pored through more than 700 hours of archival footage—from ACT UP and Treatment Action Group (TAG) archives, television news reports, and even personal recordings—to let those who were there tell the story.
How To Survive a Plague is available for streaming on Netflix.
“Fire in the Blood” (2013)
While HIV treatments are better than ever, greed and bureaucracy keep meds out of reach of many. Spanning four continents, director Dylan Mohan Gray’s trenchant investigation is an indictment of the First World’s control of funding and resources when lives are on the line. The film is available for instant streaming on Netflix.
“We Were Here” (2011)
Instead of lamenting what the government or medical institutions didn’t do, directors David Weissman and Bruce Weber focus on incredible community-led efforts to care for the sick and create a model for AIDS response in other cities.
We Were Here can be streamed instantly on Netflix.
“Silverlake Life: The View From Here”(1993)
After his friends Tom and Mark died from AIDS-related illnesses, director Peter Friedman received an extraordinary gift from them: Dozens of hours of videotape detailing their daily struggle of living with, and ultimately dying from, a disease many still believed was “God’s punishment.”
Awarded honors at Sundance and named to Top 10 lists by dozens of news outlets, Silverlake Life is a heart-wrenching yet beautiful testament to love and the will to hope in the face of death.
The film is available for rental on Netflix DVD.
“Pandemic: Facing AIDS” (2003)
Rory Kennedy’s five-part film, which aired on HBO, examines the impact of HIV/AIDS on families in Russia, India, Uganda, Brazil and Thailand.
Kennedy highlights education and prevention campaigns that have worked to slow new infections, as well as the institutional prejudices and apathy that have put millions at risk. Danny Glover and Elton John narrate.
Pandemic: Facing AIDS is available for rental via Netflix DVD.
“United in Anger: A History of ACT UP” (2012)
United in Anger details the birth of the ’80s AIDS activist movement ACT UP, from its earliest days to its powerful role in the fight against government indifference and corporate greed. The documentary is an inspiring profile of the key activists who fought to have their stories heard.
United in Anger is available for instant streaming on Amazon Video.