May 9, 2011

Act Up! Documentary film on the history of the organization

Gus Van Sant, Executive Producer of ACT UP!, a documentary chronicling the early days of AIDS activism, to host benefit for film. Star-studded event’s sponsors include Susan Sarandon, Christine Vachon, Phil Donahue, Judith Light, Carson Kressley and Ted Allen

On Wednesday, May 25, 2011, Academy Award-winning director Gus Van Sant will host a cocktail reception from 6:30-8:30 PM at New York City’s LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th Street (between 7th & Greenwich Avenues) in Manhattan to raise funds for ACT UP!, a new documentary film now in production.* Van Sant, the acclaimed director of films including Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, To Die For, Good Will Hunting and Milk is overseeing the production. A portion of the proceeds from the fundraiser will benefit AIDS organizations worldwide through a collaborative partnership with UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

The film traces the history of ACT UP – the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power – a group of New Yorkers who mobilized when municipal, state and federal government all turned a blind eye as their friends, families and loved ones were being decimated by a then-untreatable disease. ACT UP’s urgent mission was to pressure government to acknowledge the raging AIDS epidemic and take emergency measures to combat it. ACT UP’s founding New York chapter spawned branches throughout America and across the globe. Refusing to be passive victims, AIDS activists updated the civil disobedience tactics of the 1960s with a media-savvy flair that riveted the attention of the nation. Ultimately, ACT UP forced timid political leaders and an apathetic government bureaucracy to respond comprehensively to a grave public health crisis.

Assembled from hundreds of hours of historic footage and contemporary interviews under the guidance of Producers/Directors Scott Robbe (Queer Eye For The Straight Guy) and Jerry Kolber (National Geographic Television, Jedi Junkies), a major asset of the film is never-before-seen footage shot in 1987 and 1988 by Scott Robbe featuring interviews with key members of ACT UP! amidst the organization’s most tumultuous period. ACT UP! is being co-directed by Ellen Spiro (Body of War, named Best Documentary of 2007 by the National Board of Review).

Within a few years of its founding, ACT UP’s strategically-targeted activism spurred the Food & Drug Administration to shave years off the approval process for medications that held promise to treat AIDS and led to an almost 50% decrease in the cost of treatments. It is the legacy of ACT UP to have transformed what was once a death sentence into a manageable disease. Importantly, ACT UP!  shows how ordinary citizens can mobilize to successfully challenge outmoded government policies and protocols. Indeed, ACT UP! sparked the emergence of dozens of patient and consumer advocacy groups around the nation and worldwide to strategically pressure government, corporations and institutions to be more alert and responsive to life-threatening health crises.

By drawing on extensive archives of footage filmed on handheld cameras by video activists, the film captures the dynamic energy of protest. You are there as demonstrators aggressively take their fight to jar public awareness into the majestic halls of Grand Central Station, onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and directly to the Centers for Disease Control and the FDA in Washington. Combined with current interviews of key participants and contemporaneous news reports on ACT UP’s often shocking tactics, spliced together in a fast-paced, music video style of editing with a hip, kinetic soundtrack, the audience’s senses are carried along with the irresistible force of democracy being fulfilled.

One reason why ACT UP! is an essential film for our time is because it captures the story of what was one of the most effective grassroots movements of the modern era. Now, when HIV transmission rates are on the rise among many demographics and the battle for marriage equality is being fought in voting booths and courthouses across America, a new generation of activists need to be inspired and emboldened. Just as Van Sant’s Milk brought the important story of the early gay rights movement to a new generation, ACT UP! will recontextualize the powerful accomplishments of AIDS activists for a 21st century audience.

ACT UP! is currently in production with the expectation of premiering at Sundance 2012, followed by wide theatrical release and television broadcast. A companion record album produced by Anthony Rapp (Rent) and a coffee-table book co-written by producers/directors Scott Robbe and Jerry Kolber will accompany the film’s release. Sponsors of and participants in the May 25th fundraiser for the film in addition to Gus Van Sant include Susan Sarandon, Christine Vachon (Producer, Far From Heaven, Boys Don't Cry, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), fashion guru and author Carson Kressley of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, talk show host Phil Donahue, food critic and Chopped host Ted Allen, and openly-gay and HIV-positive New York State Senator Tom Duane.

* Mr. Van Sant may have scheduling conflicts that could prevent him from attending the event.

Feed Your Head Productions