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Former NU resident returns with new film on controversial housing project

April 24, 2011
By Josh Moniz - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM-A former New Ulm resident is gearing up for a return trip to Minnesota to present his third documentary film at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF).

Chad Freidrichs is an independent filmmaker and film production teacher at Stephens College in Missouri. He will be showing his film, "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" at the MSPIFF on May 1.

His film depicts the construction, life and demolition of the controversial Pruitt-Igoe public housing project in St. Louis, Missouri. It examines the politically polarizing nature of the project and attempts to dispel myths that emerged about why the project failed. Freidrichs said he hoped to help present a more accurate view of the good, as well as the bad, that the housing project generated.

Article Photos

Photo courtesy of “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” website

The film “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” follows the creation and destruction of the controversial public housing project in St. Louis, Missouri.

Freidrichs said he is not only excited to be able to present his film at the MSPIFF, but he's also excited to be able to make a trip to Minnesota. He explained that as a child, his family moved often. He said that New Ulm was one of the few places they spent an extended amount of time, third to fifth grade, living in.

"New Ulm always stuck out to me. It was a formative period in my life. It's where I made my first friends and where I learned to play hockey," said Freidrichs, "I also have cousins that live in the area."

Freidrichs said that he also looked forward to being able to show off his film work to relatives in an immediate way.

Fact Box

Filming "Pruitt-Igoe"

"The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" took five years from inception to complete to create. Freidrichs spent the first two years researching the topic before tackling the formal filming of the movie.

Freidrichs said he was initially drawn to "Pruitt-Igoe" because of his interest in making a film about architecture. He said that "Pruitt-Igoe" has become know in many architecture circles as a symbol of the failure of modern architecture.

"But, over the years I worked on it, I began to understand the scope of what really took place," said Freidrichs, "The reality doesn't fit into the simple explanations people wanted to use."

Freidrichs said he learned that the Pruitt-Igoe housing project, which housed 12,000 people in 33 11-story buildings at its peak, was really a victim of the changing nature of American cities and prejudiced attitudes of the era.

He said that the film took its final form when he began interviewing former residents of Pruitt-Igoe.

"There's a lot of stigma attached to the people that lived in Pruitt-Igoe. People assumed all the residents had to be violent or drug deals or on welfare," said Freidrichs, "We wanted to show the normality that was there. We wanted to bring balance to the portrayal."

Freidrichs performed the majority of the work on the film, especially interviews and filming. However, he had a unique opportunity on this film to work extensively with his wife, Jamie. She has lightly worked with him on all three films of his films, but on "Pruitt-Igoe" she was to work as co-script writer.

"We were proud to be able to work together," said Freidrichs.

The couple has been married for 8 years

Freidrichs said his favorite part of the making the film was the editing.

"I'm an editor by trade. That works well, because documentaries are primarily crafted by editing," said Freidrichs.

"Pruitt-Igoe" utilizes a wealth of broadcast news, industrial film and archived footage to show the Pruitt-Igoe project in all of its stages. Producer Brain Woodman, a St. Louis Archivist and co-curator of the St. Louis International Film Festival, provided the archive footage after reading about in Freidrichs' film in the paper. He was later brought on as a producer to the film.

"Brian was invaluable," said Freidrichs..

The film has already been shown at several film festivals. When the film is being shown at MSPIFF, it will also be shown at three other film festivals across North America. So far, the movie has won Best Documentary Feature at the Oxford Film Festival in Mississippi and Best Heartland Feature at the Kansas City FilmFest.

Currently, Freidrichs is working with an unnamed distributor to market the film and organize an possible tour to show the film at several college campuses across the country.

He said he will be taking a short break from filmmaking while he promotes "Pruitt-Igoe." He stated that when he does return to filming, he will likely be looking for a subject in the field of science.

"I'm ready for a new subject," said Freidrichs.

"The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" will be shown Sunday, May 1 at 2 p.m. at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. The event is in the St. Anthony's Main Theatre at 115 Main St. SE in Minneapolis.

"I see my family on the holidays and I think they have an abstract notion of me as a filmmaker," said Freidrichs, "For them to be able to experience it in a movie theater, with lots of other people, will bring it home for them."

Freidrichs said he first discovered his desire to be a filmmaker in 10th grade when he watched the Oliver Stone film "JFK."

"I had never really considered that people make movie. Before watching that film, it was almost like I assumed they came down from on high," said Freidrichs, "Once I realized that people worked behind the scenes to make a movie, I thought it would be something cool to do."

Freidrichs said that the reason "JFK" sparked his interest in film was the fact that it draws attention to filmmaking techniques. He said after he learned about what goes into making a film, he was hooked.

He obtained a degree in English at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He then started his career by filming local TV commercials for businesses. He said that the work was so intense that he had produced several hundred commercials by the time he left the job. He said that throughout his experience, he retained the itch to make movies.

Freidrichs said he buckled down and got serious about filmmaking when he approached his 25 birthday and hadn't yet made a movie. He said that he initially wanted to make a fiction film, but slipped into making documentaries because it was inexpensive and better suited his work schedule. The first two documentaries he produced were "Jandeck on Corwood" and "First Impersonator."

"Jandeck" explores the life and career of a mysterious musician in Houston, Texas who produced and distributed 30 albums from his home. "Impersonator" followed two politician look-alikes performers during the 2004 election season.

However, Freidrichs said that documentary filmmaking wasn't enough to sustain a living, so he briefly returned to filming commercials. In 2006, he applied for a teaching position at Stephens College and he was accepted as a film and video instructor. He said that he was drawn to teaching because of how much he admired his teachers when he was in college.

"The bouts of intense work mixed with long periods of relaxation suited my temperament," said Freidrichs.

Freidrichs said teaching also helped hone his skills as a director because he had to constantly examine the mechanics of filmmaking.

"As you watch your students strive and make mistakes, you come recognize what are the best ways to make film," said Freidrichs, "Before teaching, I didn't realize mistakes in basic storytelling techniques I was making. I really improved how I constructed characters and how I polished a film."

Freidrichs said his improved skills helped him when he tackled his latest film.



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