"Exit Zero" weaves a portrait of one family as it explores a Rust Belt community’s struggles with job loss and environmental pollution
October 15, 2015
Exit Zero: An Industrial Family Story traverses boundaries between personal filmmaking and ethnographic exploration, between the intimate spaces of family life and large-scale economic transformation, and between the iconic American past of a Midwestern steel-making region and its uncertain future. It invites viewers over the threshold of producer Christine Walley’s family home to experience the historic transformation of an industrial community from the inside-out.
At the end of the Chicago Skyway, just off Exit Zero, lies southest Chicago, once a leading steel-producing region. The city’s steel mills spanned the shores of Lake Michigan, employed hundreds of thousands of workers, and fostered the growth of nearby communities. By the end of the 1980s, however, the industry collapsed and nearly every mill closed, leaving the neighborhoods with non-existent economies and toxic environments. Anthropologist Christine Walley was fourteen when the steel mill that employed her father closed. Walley narrates the personal impact of deindustrialization on her family and friends. Deep-seated feelings of cynicism and disappointment combine with hopefulness for the next generation in this quintessentially American story of a post-industrial city.