An important documentary about street artist Chris Drew, and his felony trial for recording police, will premiere at The Logan Theatre on November 14. The film, Free Speech and the Transcendent Journey of Chris Drew, Street Artist is directed by Logan Square resident, Nancy Bechtol. Literally thousands of people across Chicago know Chris Drew, because of his vibrant presence in Chicago’s art community and on Chicago’s streets. In the 2 1/2 years before he passed away in 2012, Drew became known to thousands more across the country and around the world, as he faced up to 15 years in prison for recording police on duty.
In December, 2009, he was arrested for selling art for $1 in front of Macy’s on State Street. He wanted to get arrested in order to challenge the city ordinance that would require him to wear a permit in order to sell art. Drew was trying to illustrate that artists are different from merchandise peddlers. Legal precedent has held that art is a form of speech that can’t be curtailed.. It’s certainly easier to envision art as speech than to envision political contributions as speech. Before his arrest, Drew spent months with Bechtol recording his interactions with police on various occasions at various locations across Chicago. He would give away his art, and eventually began to sell it. He asked film maker Nancy Bechtol to record his activities with a video camera. He also carried a small audio recorder.
Drew’s plan to challenge the law took a sharp turn when he was arrested. Officers found the audio recorder in his pocket, and subsequently dropped the peddling charges in favor of charges of eavesdropping on police under the Illinois wiretap law. Eavesdropping charges are a Class 1 felony and carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez maintained that the conversation with the police was private, even though they were acting as public servants and were on a public way. Drew was exonerated in court in 2012, and Alvarez’s office immediately appealed the ruling. Drew died months later, however, so his case alone would not change the law in Illinois. Findings from his case, however, did affect similar cases that were being tried in Illinois at around the same time. In March of this year, the Illinois Supreme Court finally ruled that citizens have a constitutional right to record police actions in public.
The video recordings that Nancy Bechtol made on the day of his arrest as well as the years leading up to his arrest became the basis of this documentary. Footage from as early as 2002 shows Drew’s activism and his involvement with the art communities and Critical Mass community in Chicago. Interviews with his attorneys as well as people who knew him through the Uptown Multicultural Art Center are also featured. The film contains a legacy speech in which Drew maintains the importance of fighting for the right of artists to express themselves freely in public.
The film is scheduled to show for one night only, on Friday, November 14. Tickets are on sale now at The Logan Theatre box office or online at TheLoganTheatre.com. You can check out the trailer below. Much more information about Chris Drew and this film can be found on Nancy Bechtol’s website.
Trailer for Free Speech and the Transcendent Journey of Chris Drew, Street Artist