2011 True/False Film Festival: ‘The Pruitt-Igoe Myth’

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The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

Directed by Chad Freidrichs

2011, USA

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth is an interesting and sometimes informative documentary that is good but not great.  It tells the story of the Pruitt-Igoe projects in St. Louis and how they went from a promising housing utopia to a desolate and crime-ridden housing project.  This is a very interesting topic and one that is ripe for a documentary, but director Chad Freidrichs, a local Columbia filmmaker, gets in his own way here through some key decisions.

The film is mostly comprised of archival footage and talking head interviews with residents of Pruitt-Igoe and historians of the period.  Freidrichs gets some incredible archival footage like an interview with an African American man who can’t find a job despite looking everywhere.  The man has a family and is facing institutional racism of the 1960s.  That scene is truly heartbreaking to watch and yet Freidrichs almost undercuts the scene by his choice of music.

This happens a lot in the film.  Freidrichs has some incredible archival footage at his disposable and some of those scenes are very powerful.  However, his use of music almost turns it into a music video. If he had just trusted his material and gotten out of the way, this could have been an incredible documentary.

This is a chapter of history that a lot of people don’t know about.  The interesting thing is that a lot of the former residents of Pruitt-Igoe look back at their memories with a certain fondness.  There seems to be a sense of community in the housing projects.  The movie’s message seems to be that you have to take the good with the bad. This is why, that despite the problems with the film, it is worth seeing.  It has scenes of power and some very good talking head interviews.  It is never boring and there are a lot of things that we find out that are very surprising.

Joshua Youngerman

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