Educational Media Reviews Online (EMRO) | Reviewed by Timothy W. Kneeland, History and Political Science Department, Nazareth College of Rochester
"This excellent documentary reexamines the decade of fire in the South Bronx, a period from the early 1970s until early 1980s when arson destroyed 80% of the housing and leaving 250,000 people lost their homes. For years the media narrative about this tragedy was that the people burned down their neighborhood. This falsehood is exposed by this thoughtful look at life in the South Bronx, as told by residents who lived there in the 1970s."
Queens College, CUNY | A. Bonilla, Adjunct Lecturer, Urban Studies
"Urban neighborhoods don’t just 'decay.' Political and economic choices are made to disinvest, pillage and abandon. In Bronx, in the 1970s, 'seven census tracts lost 97% of their buildings to arson, and forty-four lost 50%.' What happened and why is the subject of this excellent film. A must-see for any urban studies or sociology class. Highly recommended."
Video Librarian ★★★/4
"Interviews and archival footage show how grassroots efforts rallied the community to begin rebuilding itself, and the film concludes with Irizarry's strong feelings about current efforts to help the Bronx further evolve and prosper. Exploring a dark chapter in NYC history from both a historical and personal perspective, this is recommended."
The New York Times | Press Quotes
"[Co-director] Vázquez interweaves memories of her upbringing with a rundown of civic practices that, in combination, led to the Bronx’s decline. Some, like Robert Moses’s partitioning of the Bronx with the Cross Bronx Expressway or 'redlining' — the systematic denial of investment to neighborhoods dominated by racial minorities — will be familiar to any student of urban planning or New York history."
"[Vazquez’s] stake in the issues at hand is part of what makes Decade of Fire valuable. This is a filmmaker with skin in the game, close to the flames."
The New Yorker
"With this documentary’s blend of autobiography, firsthand observation, and historical analysis, the directors Vivian Vázquez and Gretchen Hildebran dispel pervasive myths about the devastation of the South Bronx in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Vázquez recalls her childhood there in the sixties, when the neighborhood was multicultural and thriving, and reveals the racist and classist decisions, public and private, that proved catastrophic, including highway construction, redlining, mortgage policy, the closing of firehouses, the layoffs of fire marshals, and police neglect. [...] The movie’s cautious optimism regarding community organization and neighborhood stakeholders also emphasizes the national urgency of diverse and informed local journalism."
"Decade of Fire is a call to arms, a family memoir, and a history lesson. More importantly, perhaps, it’s a love letter to the Bronx and its inhabitants."
Hammer to Nail
"(An) insightful look back at a time when one of the United States’ major cities allowed a once-vibrant neighborhood to fall into neglect and disrepair, ... Decade of Fire offers a moving portrait of what life was like under these conditions, and how people survived."
"The well-paced, tightly constructed, often crushingly emotional documentary is stirring and compelling throughout, illuminating both a dark chapter of New York City history and an all-too-common example of the extent to which inner-city people can be unjustly victimized by those in power."
METROGRAPH | Kazembe Balagun, Organizer and Cultural Historian
"The beauty of Decade of Fire is that it allows the survivors of the fires to tell their own stories. This is important because there is no official narrative by the city on exactly what happened. Decade of Fire is a reconciliation: at a community screening with a Bronx housing group, some in the audience were in tears. It was first time they were able to look beyond the haze and see the truth."
"Decade of Fire, Gretchen Hildebran and Vivian Vázquez Irizarry’s exceptional documentary, is a visceral correction of the record. [...] A bounty of archival footage, data unearthed from city and ad-hoc archives, and contemporary interviews helps Vázquez Irizarry and Hildebran investigate the heartbreaking, infuriating tragedy of a minority neighborhood left for dead by white politicians and phantom landlords. [...] By expertly weaving past and present into a continuum of experience, Decade of Fire becomes less a history lesson and more a call to arms—for a neighborhood, and a nation, again in the crosshairs of an escalating urban emergency that threatens to replicate the cataclysms of urban renewal."
"One of the film’s successes is its profound understanding of the neglect these communities experienced. There’s dread in the depiction of how racism informed that neglect, as well as in its deleterious effects. [...] Many of these actions are unknown and unconsidered by the general public, and Decade of Fire makes concerted efforts to enlighten us on those matters."
"The ashes have been swept away, but the Bronx — especially the South Bronx — was not so long ago a symbol for urban self-immolation. It’s the 'self' part and its concomitant racist stereotypes that’s vividly upended in Vivian Vázquez Irizarry and Gretchen Hildebran’s documentary, Decade of Fire. Using archival and home-movie footage, the film sets out to revise a dehumanizing media history and free people who have, says Bronx native Vázquez Irizarry, 'internalized the blame.'"