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Kartemquin Films 50: ‘Winnie Wright, Age 11’

Editor’s Note

Kartemquin Films is a not-for-profit organization in Chicago, which has been producing innovative documentaries to inspire democracy and action for 50 years. To celebrate this milestone, the collaborative group is featuring a film they produced every week, from now until the end of 2016. Each film is available to watch for free until the next film in their catalog is posted every Friday.

From this point onward, I expect to highlight each film with posts aimed at calling attention to the important work Kartemquin has done and how the group has impacted the art of cinema over the past half century. Two films from the early years, “Home for Life,” and “Inquiring Nuns,” have already been featured. I will publish posts about those films in the coming weeks. —Kevin Gosztola

A number of films from Kartemquin go into working or lower class neighborhoods and humanize the people living in those neighborhoods. “Winnie Wright, Age 11” is a short film about a working class family living in Gage Park, Chicago.

The neighborhood’s population is shifting from white to black. Winnie’s mother is quite pleased with this development. Her mother also appreciates the fact that Winnie goes to school with children, who are Mexican and Puerto Rican and speak Spanish.

Winnie’s father is a blue collar worker and in the place where he works management is threatening to consolidate jobs and that will mean he will have more tasks to accomplish. He will be unable to keep up with the demands of the job, and management will give it to someone much younger than him until they quit because they cannot keep up with the job anymore. So, the union is considering a strike.

Her father is invited to a “whites only” party by someone at his work. It troubles him deeply. He refuses to go because he does not support dividing the workers against each other.

Winnie’s school is overcrowded. Like most public schools in bigger cities these days, forty years ago, this neighborhood was also dealing with keeping class size around 35 students.

One of the more amusing moments in the film is when Winnie reads a story about how President Richard Nixon stole Christmas. He raised the prices on everything. There is no gas so families cannot travel to see grandpa and grandma. Nixon even told families not to put out Christmas lights. Plus, the heat was cut so people would freeze.

Winnie has a button collection with buttons that have slogans like “Impeach Nixon.” She has one that comes from a protest against the Jewel Grand Bazaar. It is part of a United Farm Workers’ struggle.

The film is an enjoyable portrait of a white working class family in Chicago in the mid-1970s. It represents another part of the history of how Chicago’s neighborhoods on the south and southwest side have changed as they go through periods of white flight or gentrification.

Watch “Winnie Wright, Age 11” for free at Kartemquin Films’ website. [Available until March 3.]

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."