In these super-hot July days, when the temperature climbs to the 100s, I’ve attended the screening of the documentary Cooked: Survival By The ZIP Code. I watched it on Monday, unfortunately almost the only screening without any public discussion as a follow-up. That was my only option to see it, and I am happy I went, but boy, how much you want to discuss this movie after the final acknowledgments appear on the screen!
From the Siskel center website:
Inspired by Eric Klineberg’s book, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Helfand (BLUE VINYL) takes a hard, personal, and often quirky look at the inequity of natural disaster, beginning with her family’s own experience of Hurricane Sandy. She ultimately zeroes in on Chicago’s shockingly inadequate response to the deadly July 1995 heatwave, during which the city morgue overflowed with the sudden deaths of 726 citizens, largely the elderly and people of color from the city’s impoverished South and West Side. This audacious look at natural disaster American-style starts with the stark premise that a zip code can be an accurate predictor of life or death when nature unleashes its worst. With increasing frequency and force, climate change sets the agenda for hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and such, but systemic neglect, deep poverty, and political expediency have already drawn the line between the survivors and the doomed, even before disaster strikes.
I do not even know how to describe this movie. It could very well become trivial – who does not talk about the predominantly black impoverished neighborhoods. Yet the evidence is striking. The footage of the news coverage back from 1995. Mayor Daley statement: “That’s why we love Chicago.” The refrigerator trucks storing the bodies awaiting autopsy outside the city hospitals. The life expectancy numbers – sixteen years difference between the North and the South.
The director takes a broader approach and poses very pointed questions to the officials: why we can’t address the issue preventively, before a disaster strikes? She also links the heatwave casualties with the overall state of the neighborhoods: the absence of affordable health care, inability to pay electric bills, the food deserts. If fact, one of the most striking episodes is the one in the mobile grocery store when the workers on the bus are trying to convince a teen to eat an apple – for the first time in his life!
The movie calls for action, and I can’t imagine anybody dismissing it’ s message.