State College native Tyler Walk was a kid when AIDS became a hotbed issue in the U.S., but that didn’t stop him from diving into the subject for the film “How to Survive a Plague.”
Walk is now a freelance film editor in New York; his documentary will be shown to a hometown audience next week at The State Theatre.
“How to Survive a Plague” profiles the activists who turned AIDS from a national epidemic into a manageable disease throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Walk was part of a team responsible for combing through VHS footage of ACT UP and Treatment Action Group, activist groups who worked with the pharmaceutical industry to develop AIDS treatments. Walk said watching the footage was an eye-opening experience for someone who grew up during a time when AIDS had largely faded out of the national spotlight.
“I learned through these characters’ eyes what they were going through. ... It’s something that’s not really taught in history books,” he said. “We attach ourselves to these characters as their stories unfold in the film.”
Walk graduated from State High’s Delta Program and then moved to Mississippi to work a series of odd jobs before returning home to pursue a degree in film and video at Penn State. He moved to New York after graduation and has been working as a freelance film editor for the past six years.
He’s traveled to the film’s screenings and observed audience reactions to it that ranged from relief to surprise.
“For people who had gone through the epidemic, it was almost cathartic for them to see their experiences on screen,” he said. “Young people have kind of been seeing it as a handbook for civil disobedience using tactics that aren’t really utilized anymore.”
Walk’s next project is a documentary about the six degrees of separation phenomenon that pairs the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” joke with mathematical concepts on interrelation. He encourages other budding young filmmakers to work hard and never turn down opportunities that come their way.
“Working hard gets you noticed. ... No one’s going to give you something, but they do notice hard work,” he said. “There’s a lot of luck involved as well. If you find yourself in a lucky situation, definitely take advantage of it.”