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The South Bronx is burning. Stay, fight, build.
Urban Studies • Sociology • American Studies • Latinx Studies
African American Studies • American History
2018. Directors & Producers Vivian Vázquez Irizarry & Gretchen Hildebran.
Producers Julia Steele Allen & Neyda Martinez.  
75 minutes. English and Spanish with English subtitles. Spanish subtitles available. Transcript Available.

In the 1970s, the Bronx was on fire. Abandoned by city government, nearly a half-million people were displaced as their close-knit, multi-ethnic neighborhood burned, reducing the community to rubble. While insidious government policies caused the devastation, Black and Puerto Rican residents bore the blame. In this story of hope and resistance, Bronx-born Vivian Vázquez Irizarry exposes the truth about the borough’s untold history and reveals how her embattled and maligned community chose to resist, remain and rebuild. DECADE OF FIRE tells the story of the South Bronx that you’ve never heard before, and offers us a roadmap for building the American communities we want and truly deserve.

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Reviews & Quotes

Queens College, CUNY

A. Bonilla, Adjunct Lecturer, Urban Studies

"Urban neighborhoods don’t just 'decay.' Political and economic choices are made to disinvest, pillage and abandon. In Bronx, in the 1970s, 'seven census tracts lost 97% of their buildings to arson, and forty-four lost 50%.' What happened and why is the subject of this excellent film. A must-see for any urban studies or sociology class. Highly recommended."

Ben Kenigsberg

"Vázquez interweaves memories of her upbringing with a rundown of civic practices that, in combination, led to the Bronx’s decline. Some, like Robert Moses’s partitioning of the Bronx with the Cross Bronx Expressway or 'redlining' — the systematic denial of investment to neighborhoods dominated by racial minorities — will be familiar to any student of urban planning or New York history."

Richard Brody

"With this documentary’s blend of autobiography, firsthand observation, and historical analysis, the directors Vivian Vázquez and Gretchen Hildebran dispel pervasive myths about the devastation of the South Bronx in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Vázquez recalls her childhood there in the sixties, when the neighborhood was multicultural and thriving, and reveals the racist and classist decisions, public and private, that proved catastrophic, including highway construction, redlining, mortgage policy, the closing of firehouses, the layoffs of fire marshals, and police neglect. [...] The movie’s cautious optimism regarding community organization and neighborhood stakeholders also emphasizes the national urgency of diverse and informed local journalism."

Kazembe Balagun, Organizer and Cultural Historian

"The beauty of Decade of Fire is that it allows the survivors of the fires to tell their own stories. This is important because there is no official narrative by the city on exactly what happened. Decade of Fire is a reconciliation: at a community screening with a Bronx housing group, some in the audience were in tears. It was first time they were able to look beyond the haze and see the truth."

Dante A. Ciampaglia

"Decade of Fire, Gretchen Hildebran and Vivian Vázquez Irizarry’s exceptional documentary, is a visceral correction of the record. [...] A bounty of archival footage, data unearthed from city and ad-hoc archives, and contemporary interviews helps Vázquez Irizarry and Hildebran investigate the heartbreaking, infuriating tragedy of a minority neighborhood left for dead by white politicians and phantom landlords. [...] By expertly weaving past and present into a continuum of experience, Decade of Fire becomes less a history lesson and more a call to arms—for a neighborhood, and a nation, again in the crosshairs of an escalating urban emergency that threatens to replicate the cataclysms of urban renewal."

Joshua Minsoo Kim

"One of the film’s successes is its profound understanding of the neglect these communities experienced. There’s dread in the depiction of how racism informed that neglect, as well as in its deleterious effects. [...] Many of these actions are unknown and unconsidered by the general public, and Decade of Fire makes concerted efforts to enlighten us on those matters."

David Edelstein

"The ashes have been swept away, but the Bronx — especially the South Bronx — was not so long ago a symbol for urban self-immolation. It’s the 'self' part and its concomitant racist stereotypes that’s vividly upended in Vivian Vázquez Irizarry and Gretchen Hildebran’s documentary, Decade of Fire. Using archival and home-movie footage, the film sets out to revise a dehumanizing media history and free people who have, says Bronx native Vázquez Irizarry, 'internalized the blame.'" 

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