CHAMPAIGN — The film "Sign Painters: The Movie" will make its local premiere at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Parkland Theatre, 2400 W. Bradley Ave.
The documentary takes a look at the past, as recent as the 1980s, when storefronts, murals, banners, barn signs, billboards and even street signs were hand-lettered with brush and paint.
But, like many skilled trades, the sign industry has been overrun by the techno-fueled promise of quicker and cheaper. The resulting proliferation of computer designed and digitally cut vinyl lettering and inkjet printers has "ushered a creeping sameness into our landscape," reads a news release.
Today, there is a renaissance in the trade. In 2010, filmmakers Faythe Levine, co-author of "Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design," and Sam Macon began documenting its dedicated practitioners.
Levine is an artist, photographer, filmmaker and curator based in Milwaukee. Her first book was published by Princeton Architectural Press.
Macon is a Milwaukee-born, Chicago-based filmmaker, photographer and writer who directs music videos, commercials, short films and documentaries of sign painting.
In "Sign Painters: The Movie," they interviewed more than two-dozen sign painters working in cities throughout the United States.
Released in May, the independent documentary is making the rounds at film festivals, film societies, museums and specialty cinemas.
The doors for the Parkland screening will open at 6:30 p.m., and the screening will begin at 7. A panel discussion will take place immediately after the screening.
Among the regional sign painters invited to participate on the panel is Mack Kite, son of the late Bill Kite, whom many in the profession consider the premier sign painter in the region.
The Champaign premiere of "Sign Painters" is a benefit for Parkland's Fine and Applied Arts Department. The requested donation for admission is $7 per person.
Parkland's Graphic Design program presents the screening with co-sponsors Champaign-Urbana Design Organization, Surface 51, Adams Outdoor and WPCD Radio.
A companion 184-page book with a foreword by artist (and former sign painter) Ed Ruscha was published in late 2012. Like the film, the book profiles sign painters young and old. "Sign Painters: The Book" will be sold at Barnes & Noble in Champaign.