Reeling in the Years: Chicago's Vanishing Neighborhoods

Film and history buffs get a chance to experience the fascinating transition of three Chicago neighborhoods during the 1960s and 1970s in revived documentaries.

Courtesy Chicago Film Archives Vanishing Neighborhoods presents the 1963 award-winning film Kali Nihta, Socrates by Stewart Hagmann and Maria Moraltes about demolitions in Greektown.

If you have a penchant for documentary film and Chicago history, make plans to catch a one-night showing of three rare 16mm shorts at the Comfort Station arts compound in Logan Square. 

Vanishing Neighborhoods, a collaborative presentation by activist org Preservation Chicago, the Chicago Film Archives and Kartemquin Films, Chicago's leader in documentary media, rewind restored works from the 1960s and '70s chronicling forgotten demolitions, the gentrification boom (remember that term?) and changing demographics that shift and tilt neighborhoods. Shot through an inside-the-skin perspective, it's the kind of street-level storytelling that fills the cracks and holes of this city's past with the voices of the people that lived through it. 

Courtesy Chicago Film Archives The short doc A Place to Live was film commissioned by the Department of Urban Renewal. The 1968 color 16mm film follows the relocation of home owners displaced by development.

The three-film bill has wide angled stories and close-ups. Take for example this 1974 documentary Now We Live on Clifton told from the point-of-view of 10-year-old Pam and her brother. The kids worry about losing their West Lincoln Park home because of the coming DePaul University expansion and, as evidence, point to all the new faces moving in. The 34-minute fiction piece Kahil Nahita, Socrates (Good Night, Socrates) features footage of Greektown homes long ago blasted away in demolitions paving room for the coming Expressway. It won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 1962.

And in 1968's A Place to Live we find the contradictions and strange permutations of urban renewal: "We are tearing down what stands in the way of a better city. Some buildings must go simply because they occupy space needed for something else," the narrator explains. Got that?

Vanishing Neighborhoods screens Nov. 19, 7:30 p.m. at Comfort Station in Logan Square, 2579 N. Milwaukee Ave. Free admission (although donations are welcome).

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