Airing Feb. 8 on PBS, Goin' to Chicago examines the appeal of the Windy City to African-Americans facing poverty and racism in the South. Especially telling are chilling images from KKK rallies and one interviewee's tears at the memory of past hunger. The film mostly proves an efficient, meat-and-potatoes documentary mixing archival footage, home movies and talking heads offering oral history. Along with its toe-tapping, bluesy soundtrack, its most imaginative flourishes are the simulated newsreels that playfully illustrate serious socioeconomic trends. Explaining the impact of mechanization on Southern farming, one "newsreel" proclaims "Robots Invade Dixie: Sharecroppers Flee the Land."
The viewer feels the palpable excitement at Chicago's neon-lit streets and the rise of all-black transplant communities like Bronzeville. But the filmmakers refuse to portray Chicago as simply the promised land, and focus unsparingly on the rise of impoverished housing projects, the loss of industrial jobs and the violence of neighborhood desegregation. Even when the land of milk and honey turns sour, former Southerners stay loyal to it, and one of "Goin' to Chicago's" final remarks is "I'd rather be a lamppost in Chicago than a bed of roses in Mississippi."
Goin' to Chicago will screen Feb. 6 at noon at the Georgia Pacific auditorium, 133 Peachtree St. Presented by the Atlanta African Film Society and the Southern Regional Council. Admission free. 404-659-2422.