Smile Politely

What’s Up, Docs?

All this week, the Art Theater in downtown Champaign will present five outstanding documentary films. How to Survive a Plague, Chasing Ice, The Central Park Five, Bill W., and Searching for Sugar Man are dynamic, thought-provoking films and the mix of styles and topics all but guarantee that there will be something for everyone. We at Smile Politely are pretty psyched about this lineup and hope you will take the time not only to peruse this list of films, but to plunk down some cash and support the Art at one or more screenings. 

Here’s the rundown, taken in part from the Art’s press release:

How to Survive a Plague (NR, 120 minutes) plays Monday at 5:00 p.m. and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

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.

How to Survive a Plague is the Oscar-nominated (Best Documentary 2013) 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. 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, filmmaker David 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.

Watch the trailer here.

Chasing Ice (PG-13, 75 minutes) plays Sunday at 2:00 p.m., Wednesday at 5:00 p.m., and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Chasing Ice is the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet, and that man is National Geographic photographer James Balog. Using time-lapse cameras, his videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate. As the debate polarizes America and the intensity of natural disasters ramps up globally, Balog finds himself at the end of his tether. Battling untested technology in subzero conditions, he comes face-to-face with his own mortality. It takes years for Balog to see the fruits of his labor.

Thanks to generous support from the Kendeda fund, the Art is able to offer FREE tickets to see this film, but you must request them in advance! You can do that by clicking this link. (The code is “ArtTheater.”)

Tickets are filled on a space-available basis, but we want to open this up to everyone. Let them know about this special event! Approved requests will receive a confirmation email with instructions on how to claim your ticket(s).

Watch the trailer here.

The Central Park Five (NR, 119 minutes) plays Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and Thursday at 5:00 p.m.

From director Ken Burns comes this powerful tale of race and justice. In 1989, five black and Latino teenagers were arrested and charged with brutally attacking and raping a white female jogger in Central Park. News media swarmed the case, calling them a “wolf pack.” The five would spend years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit before the truth about what really happened became clear. With The Central Park Five, this story of injustice finally gets the attention it deserves. Based on Sarah Burns’ riveting book and co-directed by her husband David McMahon and father, the acclaimed doc filmmaker Ken Burns, this incendiary film tells the riveting tale of innocent young men scapegoated for a heinous crime, and serves as a mirror for our times.

Watch the trailer here.

Bill W. (NR, 104 minutes) plays Monday at 7:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.

Bill W. tells the story of William G. Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, a man included in TIME magazine’s “100 Persons of the 20th Century.” Interviews, recreations, and rare archival material reveal how Bill Wilson, a hopeless drunk near death from his alcoholism, found a way out of his own addiction and then forged a path for countless others to follow. With Bill as its driving force, A.A. grew from a handful of men to a worldwide fellowship of over two million men and women — a success that made him an icon within A.A., but also an alcoholic unable to be a member of the very society he had created. A reluctant hero, Bill Wilson lived a life of sacrifice and service, and left a legacy that continues every day, all around the world.

Watch the trailer here.

Searching for Sugar Man (PG-13, 86 minutes) plays Sunday at 4:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., Tuesday at 10:00 p.m., and Wednesday at 2:30 p.m..

Searching for Sugar Man, which is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary, tells the incredible true story of Rodriguez, the greatest ’70s rock icon who never was. Rodriguez was discovered in a Detroit bar in the late ’60s by two celebrated producers struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics. They recorded an album that they believed would secure his reputation as the greatest recording artist of his generation. In fact, the album bombed, and the singer disappeared into obscurity amid rumors of a gruesome on-stage suicide. But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, he became a phenomenon. The film follows the story of two South African fans who set out to find out what really happened to their hero. Their investigation leads them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez.

Watch the trailer here.

The Doc Fest is already underway, but the revolving order of the films should give one and all the opportunity to enjoy the quality work on display. Smile Politely will be reviewing the films throughout the week, so be sure to check back and see if you agree with our take on these impressive films.

The Art’s normal ticket prices apply, although the theater is selling festival passes at the theater ($35/adult, $30/senior or student).

Get out this week and see something different.

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