Nate Hood on Decade of Fire Which is playing at NYC's Metrograph May 3 to 9
A soul-deadening history lesson, it begins with the rise of redlining minority neighborhoods, leading in part to a decade of “White Flight” in the 1960s when a million white, middle class New Yorkers fled the city for the suburbs. Around 100,000 remaining non-whites were forced from their homes for the sake of Robert Moses’ “urban renewal” plans which tore down Manhattan tenements—did you know the Lincoln Center was built on top of the ruins of working class apartments?—leading to the ghettoization of the Bronx as greedy landlords crammed dozens of people into apartments intended for single families. After that, the landlords simply stopped paying for upkeep, hired local gangs to torch the buildings, and collected state insurance claims which they pocketed before vanishing because, incredibly, state law didn’t require them to use said insurance to repair their properties. Even worse, the same “urban renewal” that decimated Manhattan housing led to the counterintuitive shuttering of many of the Bronx’s fire departments, leaving large swathes of the borough with no firefighters for when blazes broke out.
There’s more, but I hesitate to go on—I’m just regurgitating the film now. What I can say is that Decade of Fire is a chilling, necessary look at institutional betrayal and failure, yet also a glance into a vibrant community determined to rebuild itself, beginning with the family of one determined documentarian.