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"Exit Zero" weaves a portrait of one family as it explores a Rust Belt community’s struggles with job loss and environmental pollution.
"Exit Zero" weaves a portrait of one family as it explores a Rust Belt community’s struggles with job loss and environmental pollution.
159 backers pledged $17,647 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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"The old steel mill neighborhoods of Southeast Chicago are about as far away from downtown as you can get in the city. Most people don’t even know this area exists. Even the highway exit ramp here is numbered zero..."

Producer Christine Walley was 14 years old in 1980 when the steel mill in Southeast Chicago where her father worked as a shear operator abruptly closed. Soon after, the area’s other mills began to close one by one, with devastating consequences for the region and for thousands of other families - consequences that remain more than thirty years later. 

For years, she and her husband, Director Chris Boebel, have wanted to tell this story.

Exit Zero uses home movies, found footage, and a first person narrative to interweave family stories told over multiple generations. These poignant stories take us through the rise and fall of industry in Southeast Chicago and into the region's uncertain postindustrial future. They explore the turn-of-the-century experience of immigrants who worked in Chicago’s mammoth industries, the labor struggles of the 1930s, and the abrupt, unfathomable closure of the steel mills in the 1980s and 90s. As it tells the story of one family, the film captures the broader national story of deindustrialization and its economic and environmental aftermath in a way that is both highly personal and broadly relevant.

Chicago millworkers circa WWI
Chicago millworkers circa WWI

Evocative and exploratory, Exit Zero addresses the crucial disjunctures of our time: the widening gap between rich and poor, the collapse of the American Dream for working people, and the toxic legacy of the industrial past. 

Chuck Walley at the time of Wisconsin Steel's Closure
Chuck Walley at the time of Wisconsin Steel's Closure

Exit Zero is nearly - but not quite - complete! FIlming and most editing are done, but with your help we can move on to the crucial work of sound mixing, color correction, and music scoring. If we go beyond our target, we'll use the money for music rights to an iconic 70's song for the end of the movie. Your contribution can complete a decade-long labor of love and bring this topic to a wider audience -  thank you for considering supporting us! 

(Please note: unless we reach our target goal, none of the funds will be received from Kickstarter). 

This film is part of a larger transmedia Exit Zero Project by Walley, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at MIT, and Boebel, a filmmaker at MIT, who met during graduate school at NYU (click "See Full Bio" above). The project includes an award-winning book, Exit Zero: Family and Class in Postindustrial Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2013), by Walley and an interactive documentary website being created in partnership with the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum and MIT’s Open Documentary Lab with initial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (see www.exitzeroproject.org).

Risks and challenges

With support from the LEF Foundation and other smaller grants, we’re close to completing the film. We’ve already received many inquiries about showing the completed documentary in college classes, in Southeast Chicago, and in other venues around the country. We're planning on submitting it to film festivals, and are in discussions about a possible broadcast on public television. Finishing funds will bring the film up to the next level and allow us to reach this larger audience.

There is little risk, however, that the film won’t be completed. Chris B. is an experienced filmmaker with a strong track record. (See bios under "about us"). We are determined to get the movie done one way or another - even if it takes us more years working away in our walk-in closet!

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    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    Our unending gratitude and the knowledge you helped raise awareness about a crucial topic!

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    Signed thank you note on Exit Zero postcard and name on website list of supporters.

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    Set of 5 postcards of contemporary and historical Southeast Chicago, signed thank you note, and name on website list of supporters.

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    Exit Zero T-shirt (black with film poster of 1920s camera with exit zero sign in lens) and name on website list of supporters

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    Autographed copy of book "Exit Zero: Family and Class in Post-Industrial Chicago" by Christine Walley and name on website list of supporters.

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    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    Thank you in credits at end of Exit Zero documentary, plus autographed copy of Exit Zero book, T-shirt and other rewards mentioned above

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    Full-size film poster autographed by filmmakers, thank you in credits at end of Exit Zero documentary, plus autographed copy of Exit Zero book, T-shirt and other rewards mentioned above

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    Dinner with filmmakers at Small World Serbo-Croatian tavern in Southeast Chicago OR dinner at filmmakers' home in Cambridge, MA (transportation not included); plus rewards listed above

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    Tour of Southeast Chicago toxic sites with filmmakers and local environmental activists OR tour of MIT campus with the filmmakers (transportation not included) plus rewards listed above

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    Associate Producer credit on finished film plus rewards listed above.

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Funding period

- (30 days)