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Public Housing

Screening on Film
Directed by Frederick Wiseman.
US, 1997, 16mm, color, 195 min.
Print source: Zipporah Films

Dense social histories, desperate entanglements and thwarted dreams course through every interaction—from a drug counseling session to an exterminator visit—at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago. Even the 24-hour circling ice cream truck and its unrelenting refrain epitomize the strange combination of an old-fashioned, if dysfunctional, familial camaraderie within an oppressive architecture of surveillance, vigilance and continual police presence. Surrounded by poverty, addiction, abuse, crime and unemployment, the advocates for change fight an uphill battle or, at times, a backwards one—as suggested by a condom demonstration to a room of teenage mothers and their crying babies—yet their gallant efforts toward inspiration and empowerment are unflagging. From police confrontation to sewing circle, it is the unending compassion and grace that astonishes perhaps more than the chronic frustration and hopelessness.

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2018 Norton Lectures in Cinema:
Frederick Wiseman

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Frederick Wiseman, Institution U.S.A.

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Devour the Land: Cinema, landscape, history.