Cooked: Survival by Zip Code

The repercussions from the 1995 Chicago heat wave on the city's entrenched poverty, economic and social isolation, and racism.

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Independent Lens
Premiere Date
February 10, 2020
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
Series and Special Projects

Judith Helfand

Filmmaker, activist and educator Judith Helfand is best known for her ability to take the dark, cynical worlds of chemical exposure and heedless corporate behavior and make them personal, resonant, highly charged, and entertaining. Her films, The Uprising of ’34 (co-directed with George Stoney), the Sundance-award-winning Blue Vinyl (co-directed Show more with Daniel B. Gold and nominated for two Emmys), and its Peabody-award-winning prequel A Healthy Baby Girl (a five-year video-diary about her experience with DES-related cancer), explore home, class, corporate accountability, intergenerational relationships, and the ever shrinking border between what is personal and what is a critical part of the public record. Show less


Fenell Doremus

Fenell Doremus co-produced the Palestinian episode of the Independent Lens series The New Americans. Doremus has worked for 12 years in documentary film, beginning her career at Kartemquin Films as an assistant editor on the award-winning Hoop Dreams. As a staff producer at Kartemquin, she produced and edited nearly a dozen sponsored videos. Doremus’s Show more other documentary work includes associate producing for Seeking Solutions with Hederick Smith Productions; associate producing the award-winning 5 Girls; segment producing Communityworks TV, a pilot for a PBS series; and segment producing for Chicago-WTTW’s Emmy award-winning Artbeat series. In 2001, Doremus completed a special half-hour piece for the series that she produced, co-directed, and edited over the course of three years, A Year on Teen St. In 2002, she spent a month in India shooting and associate producing Quiet Strength, a documentary about Tibetan Nuns living in exile. Show less

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The Film

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. Cooked 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 quirkly 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.