This film is quite a feat — a 20-year project pared down to a 56-minute documentary. Hoosier writer and editor Catherine Crouch carved her film from 500 hours of raw footage. It premiered on PBS this week and is now available to order on DVD. Directed by Crouch’s college classmate Ronit Bezalel, this film is a masterful and moving piece of work.
70 Acres in Chicago chronicles an urban redevelopment disaster and the community that stood strong amid the destruction. It’s the story of Cabrini Green, a public housing development that once loomed large in the city’s skyline. Starting in the mid-’90s, the high-rise complex was torn down in order to create mixed-income housing. Although city officials presented this as an effort to make the community more integrated, the project only displaced and alienated Cabrini Green’s African-American residents. The mixed-income housing experiment ended up becoming a new chapter in the city’s long history of racial segregation.
City officials told Cabrini Green residents that they didn’t want them to leave and that they only wanted to improve their living conditions. But the chances of those residents being able to live in the shiny, new apartments are slim. “The odds are probably 90 to one,” says former Cabrini Green resident Mark Pratt.
This documentary paints a poignant yet inspiring portrait of a community whose heart remained intact under the rubble of its buildings. As the bricks fell, the residents kept standing up to the city officials responsible for the destruction. One of the film’s most powerful scenes shows middle school students bravely throwing some tough questions at Mayor Richard Daley. “How would you feel if someone tore your building down and took your memories?” one of them asks while looking deep into his eyes.
Now is a good time to watch this film, as more and more people are standing up to their government and taking to the streets to fight for what’s right. 70 Acres in Chicago is a rousing rallying cry and a striking example of how filmmaking can be an act of justice.