Professor’s film about displacement of a Chicago community to screen on campus

St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology David Schalliol took this photo of the Chicago neighborhood that is the focus of his new film, “The Area.”

On November 14, St. Olaf College faculty member David Schalliol is bringing his new film, The Area, to campus for a special showing.

Schalliol has earned national recognition for the film, which tells the story of an African American community’s struggle against displacement by a multi-billion dollar freight company on Chicago’s South Side.

The on-campus screening, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. in Viking Theater, is free and open to the public.

The Area spans a five-year period of conflict for more than 400 families, some of whom have lived in the neighborhood for generations. The film follows homeowner-turned-activist Deborah Payne and other community members as they demand respect from the city of Chicago and resist their displacement.

In the film and other research projects, Schalliol focuses on the concept of community problem solving.

“I’m interested in how people attempt to fix problems in their neighborhoods, especially when they feel like they can’t turn to outside groups for help.” — David Schalliol.

“I’m interested in how people attempt to fix problems in their neighborhoods, especially when they feel like they can’t turn to outside groups for help,” says Schalliol. “The film explores this dynamic by looking at how community members respond to big picture issues and also how they respond to day-to-day problems. What do you do when an absentee landlord doesn’t maintain the building next door? What do you do when there are fewer neighbors to keep an eye on your home? What do you do when the state has a different idea for the best use of your land than you do?”

Using film to discuss sociological concepts
Schalliol has spent much of his career studying urban affairs in Chicago and has earned national recognition for his work.  Besides using traditional scholarly modes to convey his findings, Schalliol has excelled by using media to communicate his research. Schalliol says that using film to explore sociological themes, as he does in The Area, can do multiple things.

First, film can engage individuals and allow them to think about an issue in a new way. “I’m interested in how the power of visuals can give us another way to engage a subject,” says Schalliol. “People tend to consider ideas differently when they’re presented in a film or photographic series instead of in the written word.”

And second, film can bring a complex scholarly issue to a broader audience, allowing all people to understand the issue and have the tools to have a conversation about that issue. “While academic conversations in academic contexts are an essential part of my practice, we can also present scholarly material so that the general public can join in the discourse,” Schalliol says. “Everyone can go and experience a film. Everyone can go and participate in a conversation about a story. It has a different kind of capacity for engagement and effect.”

The Area has received wide acclaim, including earning four stars from the Chicago Reader. The on-campus screening will feature a discussion with Schalliol and Payne, who also co-produced the film.