How to Survive a Pandemic Review: Running for a Shot

A decade after receiving an Oscar nomination for his documentary, How to Survive a Plague, about the work of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power in the 1980s and ’90s that led to the development of antiviral treatments for AIDS, director David France returns with what we could – depressingly – call a sequel, “How to Survive a Pandemic,” about the global effort to develop and distribute vaccines against the coronavirus.

Unlike the retrospective perspective of the 2012 film, How to Survive a Pandemic unfolds in medias res – which is both the film’s strength and weakness given the magnitude of the ongoing crisis. In the first half, filmed in 2020, France follows science journalist Jon Cohen as he interviews policymakers and researchers fighting to develop and approve Covid-19 vaccines.

Cohen tells his interlocutors that he is assembling a “time capsule” of the moment. The opportunity has sparked notable candor from some: Peter Marks, one of the Food and Drug Administration’s senior regulators, admits the pressures he’s faced under a Trump administration bent on winning at the right time.

The second chapter, which traces the global distribution of vaccines, has less investigative weight. Its events are too recent and unresolved to capture a time capsule flashback, and its images of hospitals and cremation grounds are too familiar to inspire anything but deadening.

Here the film ventures beyond the United States – to South Africa, India and Switzerland – to chronicle the failure of the United Nations vaccine initiative and the reluctance of manufacturers to release patents. The message – that science cannot thrive without a politics of solidarity – is important, but the film ends on a note of uncertainty that feels more defeatist than urgent.

How to survive a pandemic
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. View on HBO platforms.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/01/movies/how-to-survive-a-pandemic-review.html How to Survive a Pandemic Review: Running for a Shot

Isaiah Colbert

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