Cleveland International Film Festival } March 25 – April 5, 2020 } Tower City Cinemas

South Bronx Locals Tell their Story through a "Decade of Fire"

March 29, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in


Throughout the 1970s, the South Bronx went up in flames, much like its reputation in the years to follow. Unjust government policies and redlining were among the factors that fueled the community’s demise, leaving its minority residents among the ashes. Fortunately, Co-Director Gretchen Hildebran partnered with South Bronx native, Vivian Vázquez Irizarry, who lived through the neighborhood’s highest highs and lowest lows, to tell a new story about New York City’s misunderstood borough in their documentary, “Decade of Fire.

Hidlebran and Vázquez Irizarry met through the creation of this film and became friends and creative collaborators. Of Vázquez Irizarry, Hildebran says, “She taught me how to be a better listener and also the power of language. We rewrote the narration to this film maybe 50 times. Or maybe 100? I can't even remember. I could never have understood this story without her, much less figured out how to make it into a film.”

Sharing this honest perspective from South Bronx locals was so crucial, since history and the media have always dictated the storyline, frequently leaving out important truths about the real challenges the community and its residents faced.

On a local scale, it is evident Cleveland has been no stranger to similar cycles of neglect and displacement like the South Bronx. But the two communities are also home to passionate individuals who are dedicated to rebuilding and restoring their neighborhoods for generations to come. Hildebran believes audiences from any pocket of the U.S. will be able to relate.

“While each city is unique, so many cities in our country had a place comparable to the South Bronx--places where people and where they lived didn't count for much in budget spending or political calculus,” Hildebran says.

After 10 long years from inception to premiere, Hildebran and Vázquez Irizarry were finally able to complete the story they wanted to tell. As Hildebran puts it, they were “telling such a small piece of such an enormous history,” turning critiques into constructive motivation, and settling on which personal interviews would best tell the story they sought to illustrate. While not all accounts could feasibly make the final cut, the finished product speaks to the incredible resilience of the residents and the enduring love for the South Bronx.

“The best impact we could hope for is to start a public dialogue about decent, affordable, and stable communities,” says Hildebran, “and inspire everyday people to join the fight for their homes alongside their neighbors.”

Amy Brown

PHOTO: From left: Gretchen Hildebran, co-director, is a documentary filmmaker and editor. Vivian Vázquez Irizarry, co-director, has worked in the youth development and education field for more than two decades.

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.4 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/28/19 @ 6:00 PM – Decade of Fire
03/29/19 @ 5:10 PM – Decade of Fire
03/30/19 @ 9:30 AM – Decade of Fire

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