Almost a companion piece to last year’s harrowing We Were Here, about the beginnings of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco, Jim Hubbard’s powerful documentary United in Anger charts the rise of ACT UP in response to the crisis. Because this is the 20th anniversary of the founding of ACT UP, it is also being shown the same year as David France's How to Survive a Plague, also at the fest, which depicts a different route a group of activists took.
Out in Anger is especially fascinating as seen through the lens of today’s activism: we go to fundraising dinners, we make You Tube videos, we tweet, but do we ever express rage? Does our fury at the way our government treats us ever lead us to lie down in the streets, willing to be dragged off by the police?
The people shown in Hubbard's documentary did—and it’s amazing, inspiring, and, as the film shows, successful. The scrappy actions of ACT UP affected real and serious change in policy, treatment, and perception. Unfortunately, while the story is always compelling, the film wanders into an unavoidable sameness that hits after the first hour. After all, how much protest footage can you see before it all starts to look the same?
Liberally peppered throughout are the talking heads who reflect back on the movement (sometimes between cuts of their younger selves at meetings or rallies). Their stories are heartfelt and the speakers are justifiably proud of what they accomplished. They know that they helped change the world for good.