Cooked: Survival by Zip Code

Cooked: Survival by Zip Code

February 03, 2020


Judith Helfand

In 1995, more than 700 Chicagoans died in a single week.


About the Documentary

In the summer of 1995, Chicago experienced an unthinkable disaster, when extremely high humidity and a layer of heat-retaining pollution drove the heat index up to more than 126 degrees. Cooked: Survival by Zip Code tells the story of this tragic heatwave, the most traumatic in U.S. history, in which 739 citizens died over the course of just a single week, most of them poor, elderly, and African American.

When peeled away from the shocking headlines the story reveals the less newsworthy but long-term crisis of pernicious poverty, economic, and social isolation and racism. Cooked is a story about life, death, and the politics of crisis in an American city that asks the question: Was this a one-time tragedy, or an appalling trend?

The Filmmakers

Judith Helfand

Judith Helfand is best known for her ability to take the dark worlds of chemical exposure, heedless corporate behavior and environmental injustice and make them personal, highly-charged and entertaining. Her films include The Uprising of ‘34, the Sundance award-winning and Emmy-nominated Blue Vinyl, its Peabody Award-winning prequel A Healthy Baby Girl, and Everything’s Cool.  Three of those premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, with national broadcasts on PBS (POV), HBO and The Sundance Channel. A committed field-builder and educator, Helfand co-founded Working Films in 1999 and Chicken & Egg Pictures in 2005. She was Producer on the Oscar-nominated, DuPont-winning short, The Barber of Birmingham, and Executive Producer for Brooklyn Castle, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, Private Violence, and Hot Girls Wanted. In 2007, Judith received a United States Artist Fellowship, one of 50 awarded annually to “America’s finest living artists,” and in 2016 she was invited to join the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Helfand is in production on a first-person, non-fiction feature Love & Stuff, an intergenerational love story about losing her mother and becoming a new “old” mom in her fifties, both at once

Full Credits

Learn more about the documentary

Join the Discussion

Do you think this tragedy was an outlier, a one-time tragedy--or a trend? Had you heard of the 1995 Chicago heatwave before, and did you know about the death toll? If not, why do you think you'd never known about this story? How prepared is your own zip code for a heat disaster?