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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Life + Arts

Review: AIDS documentary informs viewers of struggle in the ’80s

“United in Anger: A History of ACT UP,” a documentary by Jim Hubbard was screened by the Blaffer Art Museum during the Houston Cinema Arts Festival and educated students about a diminished Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender organization in the Honors College on Friday.

The film traces the history of the activist group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power from its conception in 1987 to the present.

The group formed as a reaction to the AIDS crisis in the U.S. during the 1980s when the disease was misrepresented and untreated by the Food and Drug Administration and a feeling of abandonment from the U.S. government.

Hubbard constructs his documentary as an oral history of ACT UP and this is where the documentary finds its heart.

He does a mixture of interviews with the people originally involved in the activist group and overlay their words with archival footage from the actual demonstrations and meetings.

Through these images and interviews, the documentary is able to create a tragic yet inspiring sense of the people who were fighting for their lives.

They were protesting in an age when AIDS was lethal — 80 percent of those diagnosed were dead within two years.

The director manages to capture this desperate atmosphere as he immerses the audience into the demonstrations as they were happening and makes the issue inescapable. Viewers can hear the protesters shout earnestly in the street, “You are killing us.”

The film raises the issue above a political message and into a humanistic issue.

It hits many emotional notes as it shows the protestors and demonstrations in the street.

They make an attempt to change and save themselves only to see a title scroll beneath them that gave their names and date of death just a few years later.

The film does have some managing issues with an intrusive timeline and strange music that would suddenly appear between footage to move the documentary forward to the next protest.

The bright colors and electronic music seemed to clash with the tone of the film and could have been handled differently.

Yet whatever transitory flaws the film had, it couldn’t shake the earnestness in the protesters’ voices, the tragedy of a criminally untaught time, and most importantly, the unending relevancy of the issues the film brings.

With “United in Anger: A History of ACT UP,” Hubbard reminds people just how long these debates have raged on and how important they are to solve.

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