I WAS BORN at the peak of the AIDS crisis. I'm too young to remember Senator Jesse Helms denouncing sodomy on the floor of the Capitol, or the mayor of New York calling AIDS activists fascists, or Greenwich Village artist Ray Navarro crashing an Catholic anti-condom pronouncement dressed like Jesus and proclaiming, "Make your second coming a safe one!" All those scenes are in How to Survive a Plague, the extremely well-crafted documentary of AIDS activism group ACT UP. It should be required viewing for youngsters like me.

Director David France does his complicated subject justice, piecing together the film from loads of priceless archival footage and powerful interviews with aging activists lucky enough to survive the epidemic that killed millions of people before groups like ACT UP forced our government to take the "gay men's disease" seriously. The footage captures the hopelessness and life-and-death fury of activists at a time when politicians turned a blind eye to HIV, and it's an inspiring message for jaded Americans today: Protest can actually lead to major change.