When I was an undergrad in Hunter College, the joke at the time was that you can tell it was springtime when the students started to protest the tuition hikes. Admittedly it was black humor, but like the swallows at Capistrano, the students returned to protest formation around state budget time. With the Occupy movement gearing up for a May 1 nationwide general strike, I think it’s fitting that I highlight two documentaries being screened at the Boston Independent Film Festival this weekend both dealing with activism and protests.
Follow the Occupy movement’s grassroots rise to consciousness in “We’re Not Broke” from directors Karin Hayes and Victoria Bruce. They show through expert testimony that that through common, legal tax loopholes, corporations and ultra-wealthy persons have been able to evade paying their fair share of taxes leaving the rest of the public sectors and the public struggling. They combine the talking heads with the rise of first time activists gathering via social media, educating each other and becoming part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Rather than being a message of despair, they offer hope to people who want to do something. Both Ms. Hayes and Ms. Bruce will be in attendance.
“How to Survive a Plague” follows a group close to my history and heart: ACT UP. When AIDS was a paralyzing epidemic all over the US in the ‘80s and ‘90s, this group of mostly HIV-positive men and women took their direct action up a notch to protest the government and the medical community’s lack of movement. Most remember ACT UP for their disruption of services at St. Patrick’s Cathedral among other places, but what I didn’t know is they also infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify new treatments. Director David France had access to hours of never before seen archival footage to tell the story of how ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) successfully fought against death and apathy to offer hope and treatment to a scared public. Mr. France will also be in attendance for the screening.
Both films are worth seeing if only to document the way movements are established and how they can achieve their goals. Remember Frederick Douglass’ words: “power concedes nothing without demand; it never did and it never will.” Both films will screen at the Somerville Theater on Saturday. “We’re Not Broke” opens the Saturday screenings at noon in Somerville Theater 2; “How to Survive a Plague” starts at 2:00 pm in Somerville Theater 2. Get your tickets in advance at the BIFF website.