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The Pozen Center was thrilled to co-host a screening of The Area with the Film Studies Center this November, followed by a Q&A with the documentary’s directors Brian Ashby (AB’06) and David Schalliol (AM’04, PhD’15), and Deborah Payne, a producer and one of the film’s protagonists.

The Area tells the story of one South Side community’s efforts to hold its community together as it is bought off and dismantled by the Norfolk Southern Corporation, a railroad company looking to expand an intermodal shipping lot. By the time the cameras start rolling in 2012, much of the damage has already been done: an early round of aggressive buyouts left many residents displaced and feeling betrayed. But the film still finds moments of inspiration and joy, as resident-turned-community-organizer Deborah Payne works to preserve a sense of community among the rapidly-vacating lots. From Fourth of July parties to small planning sessions among the neighborhood holdouts, the film charts five years of hard, creative work to keep a community from being bought and forced out piecemeal.

While much of movie’s drama plays out in town halls and organizing meetings, the film dedicates less time to the legal and political questions at stake. Instead, viewers are given a glimpse into the moving stories of the South Siders who explain why Norfolk Southern could never put a cash value on their homes. One resident explains that his father’s Alzheimer’s has progressed to a point that he couldn’t risk being moved to another home. And as Payne told audience members at the post-film discussion, “No one could ever pay for the memories that were in that house.”

As debris and abandoned homes begin taking over the neighborhood, we see that Payne and her neighbors’ fight is as much about dignity as it is about adequate buyout offers. Even as she recognizes Norfolk Southern’s increasingly inevitable progress in snapping up more lots for its expansion, she and her neighbors fight for honesty and integrity in the deal-making process, and respect for the community members who are unwilling to place a monetary value on their family homes and the memories they contain.  

In a time where community displacement is at the center of conversations in Hyde Park and Woodlawn, the film was a useful reminder of how decisions made in boardrooms affect real, vulnerable people. It was a message we enjoyed learning from, and sharing with our community. (Calvin Wilder, AB’19)

For more information about The Area, its creators, and future screenings, follow this link.