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.

newspaper image of paramedics carrying covered dead body
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
February 3, 2020
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
Series and Special Projects
filmmaker Judith Helfand

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

filmmaker Fenell Doremus

Fenell Doremus

In addition to producing COOKED: Survival by Zip Code, Doremus co-produced the Academy Award nominated and Emmy Award winning, ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail for PBS’ Frontline series. Doremus got her start working as an Assistant Editor on HOOP DREAMS and went on to serve as staff Producer at Kartemquin Films for the next eight years. She Produced and Show more Directed A YEAR ON TEEN ST, a short documentary broadcast locally on PBS, following a teen theater troupe over the course of a year and was Segment Producer/Co-Editor of the groundbreaking multi-part immigration series THE NEW AMERICANS, broadcast on PBS’ Independent Lens and winner of multiple awards at festivals worldwide. Doremus lives in Chicago, is an active member of the Documentary Producers Association and serves on the Board of Kartemquin Films. 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.