David France

Director of Oscar-nominated documentary "How to Survive a Plague"; Award-winning Journalist, Best-selling Author

“The presentation by David France was thoughtful and impactful for our large diverse audience.  . . of HIV professionals.  His moving first hand account of the inspiration behind the documentary How to Survive a Plague was a reminder. . . of why they choose the field of HIV.”

Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center

Filmmaker David France is the director and co-writer of the Oscar-nominated and critically-acclaimed, How to Survive a Plague, the documentary and subsequent book about the early years of the AIDS epidemic. The film earned him The John Schlesinger Award (given to a first-time documentary or narrative feature filmmaker) from the Provincetown International Film Festival and the PBS Independent Lens broadcast won the Peabody Award and was nominated for two Emmys. He is also a best-selling author and an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in national publications, such as New York magazine, Newsweek, The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and GQ. He has appeared on The Colbert Report to discuss the scientific basis that homosexuality is genetic. France is an ideal keynote speaker for colleges and universities, corporate diversity in the workplace programs, gay and lesbian conferences and events, AIDS conferences, and film and journalism schools.

France is also the writer and director of The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson. The documentary uses never-before-seen footage and rediscovered interviews in a search for the truth behind the mysterious 1992 death of black transgender activist and Stonewall veteran Marsh P. Johnson. It shows, “the weight of a constant struggle to not just gain acceptance, but survive fighting for it,” that “gives France’s documentary a stirring poignancy.” (Los Angeles Times). The New York Times praised it for its achievement to keep “her memory alive. That itself is a victory over indifference.”

How to Survive a Plague premiered as an official selection at Sundance Film Festival and made many year-end Best Films lists: Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Time, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Slate, and the New York Times. France was hailed as the best new filmmaker of 2012 by the International Documentary Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Film Critics, and Boston Online Film Critics, among others. A mini-series with a screenplay by France is in development. France’s book on the subject, also called How to Survive a Plague, will be published by Knopf in 2016. It is the first major book to examine the historic role of AIDS activists in the drug breakthroughs that made surviving AIDS possible – and how those efforts also powered a civil rights movement that fundamentally changed the place of gay men and lesbians in America and worldwide.

How to Survive a Plague is the story of two coalitions – ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) – whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. Faced with their own mortality an improbable group of young people, many of them HIV-positive young men, broke the mold as radical warriors taking on Washington and the medical establishment. Despite having no scientific training, these self-made activists infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time. With unfettered access to a treasure trove of never-before-seen archival footage from the 1980s and ’90s, France puts the viewer smack in the middle of the controversial actions, the heated meetings, the heartbreaking failures, and the exultant breakthroughs of heroes in the making.

A veteran journalist, France is a contributing editor for New York magazine and was senior investigative editor at Newsweek until 2003. He is currently working on Sylvia and Marsha, a documentary about the trans movement. He is also the author of critically-acclaimed, best-selling books. Our Fathers, an investigation into the Catholic Church sexual abuse crisis, was published to critical acclaim and was adapted by Showtime for a film of the same name. The film received Emmy nominations and a Writers Guild of America Award. The Confession, which he wrote with the former Governor of New Jersey Jim McGreevey, was a New York Times best seller. In addition to Our Fathers, other films have been developed from his work: Thanks of a Grateful Nation, a controversial Showtime miniseries about the first Gulf War; the Peabody Award winner Soldier’s Girl, about a private’s murder.

A 2007 article France wrote for GQ, “Dying to Come Out: The War On Gays in Iraq”, won a GLAAD Media Award. He spent a year with the family of a boy who committed suicide and undertook a forensic approach in an article about it for the Ladies’ Home Journal. The piece, entitled “Broken Promises”, which he wrote with Diane Salvatore, won a Mental Health America ‘Excellence in Mental Health Journalism’ award in 2008.

Originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, France now lives in New York City and the Catskills, in upstate New York.

Praise for David France’s Talks

“The presentation by David France was thoughtful and impactful for our large diverse audience.  He effectively reached our group of HIV professionals with various backgrounds, including clinicians, educators, social service providers, etc. His moving first hand account of the inspiration behind the documentary How to Survive a Plague was a reminder to many in the audience of why they choose the field of HIV.”

—Midwest AIDS Training & Education Center

“David France, besides being an accomplished filmmaker and journalist, is an excellent speaker. His attendance at our screening of How to Survive a Plague provided for a lively discussion of the film’s many themes and definitely left our audience wanting more. David is a warm, witty, and inspirational speaker who immediately connects with his audience. We only wish we had more time with him!”

—Janice Morris,
Kwantlen Polytechnic University

“David is a direct, well-spoken man who can engage a college audience on current LGBT issues.”

—Brandon Walsh, Director of Films at Indiana Memorial Union Board

Praise for How to Survive a Plague

“Former Newsweek writer David France artfully recounts the history of the activist group ACT UP – whose iconic logo was SILENCE = DEATH – in his masterly film How to Survive a Plague.”

—   David Ansen, Newsweek

“The currents of rage, fear, fiery determination and finally triumph that crackle through David France’s inspiring documentary, How to Survive a Plague, lend this history of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power a scorching electrical charge.”

—   Stephen Holden, the New York Times

“Riveting…moving, and essential.”

—   Bruce Diones, The New Yorker

“…Quickens the pulse like a thriller and rouses passions as well as any drama.”

—   Entertainment Weekly

“I sat down to watch How to Survive a Plague, a new documentary about the history of the AIDS epidemic, expecting to cry, and cry I did…I expected to be angry. Here, too, I wasn’t disappointed. What I didn’t expect was how much hope I would feel. How much comfort. While the movie vividly chronicles the wages of bigotry and neglect, it even more vividly chronicles how much society can budge when the people exhorting it to are united and determined and smart and right. The fight in us eclipses the sloth and surrender, and the good really does outweigh the bad. That’s a takeaway of How to Survive a Plague, and that’s a takeaway of the AIDS crisis as well.”

—   Frank Bruni, the New York Times

“Even if you lived through this era, went to protests, wept over the AIDS quilt and believed yourself aware, director David France’s assured, seamless directorial debut, rich with archival footage, will teach you something about courage, dedication and the power of well-directed anger…It’s never too late to say, see this movie.”

—   Mary Pols, Time

“The first documentary that I have seen that does justice to this story of a civil rights movement rising from the ashes of our dead.”

—   Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast

“Both gripping and wrenching – not to mention thrilling – David France’s documentary recalls a slice of recent history that is in danger of being lost.”

—   Marshall Fine, Huffington Post

“When it’s over, this documentary lingers as a testament to extraordinary human bravery. It stands as one of the most heartbreaking and suspenseful sagas of the year.*****!” –

—   Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle

“The film spotlights scientist, researchers and a retired chemist, not all of them HIV-positive, who did invaluable work in calling attention to a treatment protocol and promising drugs worldwide. 3 1/2 Stars.”

—   Roger Ebert

“Like the very best documentaries about political movements, How to Survive a Plague makes you feel humble and, at the same time, extraordinarily proud.”

Stuart Klawans, The Nation