Filmed over a period of 20-years, 70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green chronicles the demolition of Chicago's most infamous public housing development, Cabrini Green, the displacement of residents, and the subsequent area gentrification.  This complex, poignant film looks unflinchingly at race, class, and survival.

A front-row seat into one of the nation’s most emblematic affordable housing struggles.
 

Professor Larry J. Vale, MIT
Synopsis: 

70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green is a stunning documentary that explores the effects of Chicago's 1.5 billion dollar Plan for Transformation, an edict requiring the demolition of the city's public housing. Shot over a period of 20-years, the film follows the impact this has on the lives of the residents of Chicago's Cabrini Green housing development.

With its central location, Cabrini was hailed as a public housing triumph and demonized as an urban disaster. Beginning in 1995, it was demolished and then repackaged as a mixed income development, where, unsurprisingly, the former, largely black residents have been marginalized or driven away. 70 Acres documents this upheaval, from the razing of the first buildings in 1995, to the clashes in the mixed-income neighborhoods a decade later.  The film tells the story of this hotly contested patch of land, while looking unflinchingly at race, class, and who has the right to live in the city.

Reviews

...speaks volumes about gentrification and the concept of ‘mixed-income’ housing. 

Odie Henderson, RogerEbert.com

...a valuable chronicle of the particulars of urban change

Ray Pride, New City

A startling case study into the making and destruction of one of Chicago’s most infamous public housing projects.

Tony Binns, Rollingout.com
Director's Commentary: 

The Evolution of 70 Acres in Chicago by Filmmaker Ronit Bezalel

“I’ve always been interested in issues of housing, race, and class. When I arrived in Chicago in 1994, I was struck by the segregation. I moved here from Montreal to study film at Columbia College. In Montreal, we were a city divided by language—English speakers and French speakers—but Chicago was totally different. I had never lived in such a racially segregated city.  

I saw Cabrini Green from the train windows while taking the Brown Line “L” train to school, and wondered who lived behind the brick walls and gated windows.  People told me to avoid Cabrini – it was too dangerous. So of course, this made me more even curious. What was Cabrini? And, why were the people living at Cabrini so stigmatized?

I was in a film class taught by filmmaker Judy Hoffman when I decided to make a short film about Cabrini Green. I was introduced to fellow Columbia College student and Cabrini Resident, Mark Pratt, who became one of my guides into the community. It was 1995, and the first Cabrini high-rises were being torn down. I wanted to know why they were being demolished and where the people who lived there would go.

We began filming that year, during the fiery protests to save public housing. We gained the trust of the residents and they began sharing their stories of a close-knit, complicated community. Our camera followed their struggle to remain at Cabrini, culminating in moving vans and wrecking balls. The short film morphed into my master’s thesis, and in 2001, we released Voices of Cabrini: Remaking Chicago’s Public Housing--a 30-minute documentary to honor the Cabrini Green residents’ struggle.

But we knew the story wasn’t over. In 2000, Chicago launched its citywide Plan for Transformation, a ten-year plan to tear down high-rise public housing and replace buildings with new mixed-income communities. I kept filming until 2011, when the last Cabrini high-rise was demolished.

70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green follows the redevelopment story over 15 years, as families struggle with the impact of social engineering on their community and personal lives. By putting faces to the story of a mixed-income community, and documenting how people negotiate questionable political policy, the film provides a lens for analyzing the larger picture of economic and racial injustice. Yet it is the people of the Cabrini Green community that stay in sharp focus. And even now, their story continues…”