Screening in competition as a Hoosier Lens Feature at the 2016 Indy Film Fest, 70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green was shot over a 20-year period and tells the volatile story of this hotly contested patch of land, while looking unflinchingly at race, class, and who has the right to live in the city.
Cabrini Green was a high-rise community that once towered over Chicago's most valuable neighborhood, though most in its final years associated it with rampant drugs, high profile crimes and as a reminder of inequality and poverty. 70 Acres in Chicago chronicles the demolishing of Cabrini Green and the subsequent clearly out of an entire African-American community that was cleared to make room for what the Chicago Housing Authority tried to sell as a grand social experiment - mixed-income neighborhoods, though the film is unflinching in pointing out that the high value property that had once been nearly 95% African-Americans who were considered "working poor" or low-income had suddenly become nearly that percentage of white residents closer to middle-income who seemed to take a weird, but distorted, pride in lending themselves to this social experiement.
70 Years in Chicago, directed by Ronit Bezalel and written by Catherine Crouch, often looks and feels like an archival documentary, though Bezalel has packed the film with a wealth of interviews to go along with what actually is quite a bit of archival footage from the early days of Cabrini Green's development to recent years.
70 Years in Chicago is in many ways a tragic film, though to Bezalel's credit the former Cabrini Green residents aren't ever presented in a way that condescends to their very human experience. It's hard not to think about the years long journey of demolishing Cabrini Green and disrupting thousands of African-American lives even as Chicago is in a state of chaos these days.
The film asks important questions. The film offers important insights. Indeed, 70 Years in Chicago is an important film. Having already screened once at Indy Film Fest, you can still catch it on July 22nd at 3:45pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall. At a mere 58 minutes in length, the film is one of this year's shorter feature films, but its impact will stay with you long after the closing credits.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic