“One ambition [of the film] is to put ACT UP, and AIDS activism in general, squarely in the mainstream of U.S. history, where it belongs.” said Jim Hubbard, co-producer with writer Sarah Schulman of the powerful new film, "United in Anger: A History of ACT UP," which vividly tells the story of the media-savvy and enormously successful direct action group that organized in the late 80s in response to the AIDS crisis. “The other is to inspire additional activism.”
"United in Anger" uses rare archival footage from ACT UP protests and meetings, documenting the birth of the activist group in 1987 and giving an inside account of some of the more powerful protests that occurred well into the early 90s.
“There are two large collections of videotape that make this film possible," Hubbard explained in an interview on my SiriusXM OutQ radio program. "The interviews all come from the ACT UP Oral History Project. We’ve done 138 interviews so far. They range in length from an hour to two and you can get transcripts from our website. The other side of is the archival footage, and that comes from the AIDS acitivst video collection of the New York Public Library, where there’s over 1000 hours of raw camera orginal and edited tapes from the period of the late 1980s to the early 90s."
Some of the footage Hubbard took himself, as a member of ACT UP and a documentarian in those years, always with a camera in hand at demonstrations.
“It was amazing how quickly [ACT UP] grew,” he said, looking back. “There would ultimately be 147 chapters. The first ones formed within weeks of the first actions in New York. It literally mushroomed, people in cities across the country and the world said we have to do something like they’re doing in New York.”
"United in Anger" covers some of the pivotal demonstrations, including “Seize Control of the FDA," and "Stop the Church,” the controversial protest which took place at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral and focused on the Catholic church’s policies around the epidemic. The film also covers all of the organizing around the protests and how ACT UP itself functioned as a democratic group.
"What was really important about the FDA," Hubbard said, "was that ACT UP was able to analyze exacty the way drugs were studied, how they were approved and say,
this is the way to do it, this is a better way, to do it faster, to do more research and to create what became known as the parrallel track, where experimental drugs were given to people with AIDS."
The film shows how the group's structure allowed people to access it and organize, working on issues important to them.
"ACT UP allowed people to really rise to the occasion," Hubbard explained. "It was not a top-down organization. 'United in Anger; is about how all these people came together to do this incredible work. It was really important for me to show how these things get done. One of the purposes of 'United in Anger' is to foster greater political involvement by people.”
"United in Anger" opened in New York at the Quad Cinema this week and can be seen at screenings in cities across the country in coming weeks. Check the website for details.
Listen to the full interview:
See a slideshow of classic ACT UP protest signs and flyers: