THE HILLS (2023) with Ines Sommer: Block Museum - Northwestern University
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THE HILLS (2023) with Ines Sommer

A deer stands in tall reeds with power lines in the background
Image credit: THE HILLS (2023) courtesy of Ines Sommer
7 PM

Event Details

Date & Time:

Fri May 3, 2024
7 PM


The Block Museum of Art
40 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, IL 60208


Open to the public


THE HILLS (2023) with Ines Sommer
Plus short Chicago steel industry films

Followed by a conversation between the filmmaker and geographer Mark Bouman




THE HILLS (Ines Sommer, 2023, 43 min, digital)

At the edge of Chicago, where the steel mills once operated, sits an abandoned toxic slag hill that's been harming people, wildlife, and waterways for decades. Set against a backdrop of urban wilderness that's both seductively beautiful and poisoned, Chicago filmmaker Ines Sommer’s THE HILLS uses a lyrical lens to connect a legacy of pollution to labor history and current environmental struggles.

Astutely observational, THE HILLS explores the toxic aftermath of the now-shuttered steel mills of Chicago’s Southeast Side, which left behind slag heaps that contain arsenic, chromium, lead, and other toxins. The film is named after a deserted 67-acre hill of slag dumped by Republic Steel from the 1950s to the 1980s--recently declared a superfund site by the EPA--that has long been a popular recreational area for Chicagoans, even as its invisible poisons leach into the adjacent Indian Creek, flowing onwards to Wolf Lake, the Calumet River, and Lake Michigan through swaths of wildlife habitat and a primary source of Chicago’s drinking water. Sommer explores the impact of the toxic remains of THE HILLS on the wildlife and people in the region, using the specificity of the site to look more broadly at the area’s industrial history, labor, and current environmental justice struggles.

THE HILLS will be presented along with two short flms that highlight vastly different dimensions of steel as represented by the industry owners and its workers.


THE NEW WORLD OF STAINLESS STEEL (Unknown, 1960, 16 min, digital)

This sponsored short, produced by the Chicago-based Wilding Picture Productions for Republic Steel, extols the virtues of stainless steel in mid-century American manufacturing and design. Courtesy of Chicago Film Archives.

[Protest-camera roll excerpts] (Orlando Lippert, 1937, 8 min, digital)

Raw footage shot by Paramount News newsreel cameraman Orlando Lippert of the violent and deadly confrontation between police and strikers at the Republic Steel plant in South Chicago on Memorial Day, 1937. Courtesy of Canyon Cinema.

Total run time: ~67 minutes

Followed by a conversation with filmmaker Ines Sommer (Associate Professor of Instruction in Northwestern’s Radio/TV/Film Department and Director of the Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab), Mark Bouman (Senior Environmental Social Scientist, Field Museum), and Block Museum Associate Film Programmer, Malia Haines-Stewart.



Ines Sommer is a filmmaker, film programmer, and educator, who is drawn to stories about humans and nature, politics, rural life, and history. Often rooted in our region, her films range from observational and character-driven documentaries to essay films, experimental projects, and installations.

Mark Bouman is the Senior Environmental Social Scientist at the Keller Science Action Center of the Field Museum. Bouman is a lifelong Chicagoan and an urban and historical geographer who has spent 27 years teaching on the far south side of Chicago studying the incredible diversity of the Calumet region.

Short steel films available courtesy of Canyon Cinema and Chicago Film Archives.

Presented with support from the Climate Crisis + Media Arts Working Group of the Buffett Institute for Global Affairs at Northwestern University.

Contact The Block Museum of Art for more information: (847) 491-4000 or email us at