Perspectives

“Cooked: Survival By Zip Code” on INDEPENDENT LENS Monday, February 3 at 10 pm


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In July 1995, a heat wave overtook Chicago: high humidity and a layer of heat-retaining pollution drove the heat index up to more than 126 degrees. City roads buckled, rails warped, electric grids failed, thousands became ill and people began to die — by the hundreds.

Teh word cooked over map of ChicagoCooked tells the story of this heat wave, the most traumatic in U.S. history, in which 739 Chicago citizens died in a single week, most of them poor, elderly, and African American. Balancing serious and somber with her respectful, albeit ironic and and signature quirky style, Peabody award-winning filmmaker Judith Helfand explores this drama that, when peeled away, reveals the less newsworthy but long-term crisis of pernicious poverty, economic, and social isolation and racism.

Cooked is a story about life, death, and the politics of crisis in an American city.

The Filmmaker 

Judith Helfand is best known for her ability to take the dark worlds of chemical exposure, heedless corporate behavior and environmental injustice and make them personal, highly-charged and entertaining.

newspaper clippings of Chicago deaths from heatwaveHer films include The Uprising of ‘34, the Sundance award-winning and 2x Emmy-nominated Blue Vinyl, its Peabody Award-winning prequel A Healthy Baby Girl, and Everything’s Cool.  Three of those premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, with national broadcasts on PBS (POV), HBO and The Sundance Channel.

A committed field-builder and educator, Helfand co-founded Working Films in 1999 and Chicken & Egg Pictures in 2005. She was Producer on the Oscar-nominated, DuPont-winning short, The Barber of Birmingham, and Executive Producer for Brooklyn Castle, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, Private Violence, and Hot Girls Wanted.

In 2007, Judith received a United States Artist Fellowship, one of 50 awarded annually to “America’s finest living artists,” and in 2016 she was invited to join the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Helfand is in production on a first-person, non-fiction feature Love & Stuff, an intergenerational love story about losing her mother and becoming a new “old” mom in her fifties, both at once