Founder and Director of Chicago Video Project
Artist in Residence at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity @ Duke University
A Chicagoan by birth and long residence, Orenstein was a community organizer in Seattle and on Chicago’s Southside, working on issues of racial injustice and housing throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. He turned to filmmaking in 1991 when he founded the Chicago Video Project—known for its award-winning short and long-form documentaries produced for organizations seeking to solve problems of economic and racial inequity. Today Orenstein is on the staff of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, where he’s directing a documentary series about Chicago’s history of housing segregation, titled Shame of Chicago.
His television credits include the 2002 Emmy Award-winning documentary, No Place to Live, which explained the roots of what is today called the “jobs-housing mismatch,” using the 1959 story of how the Chicago suburb of Deerfield blocked upwardly-mobile black families from purchasing homes in the community, a dramatic case in a broader pattern of suburban exclusion with lasting economic and social consequences. The following year Orenstein produced a mini-documentary on the harrowing experience of black families who sought to integrate a Chicago white public housing development, Trumbull Park, in the early 1950s.
In 2005, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which had supported the Chicago Video Project over a seventeen-year span, commissioned Orenstein and the Project to create a video documentary record of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation. The 250 hours of footage, shot over five years, is now archived in the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of the Chicago Public Library. In 2010, the MacArthur Foundation again commissioned Orenstein to produce a 20-minute documentary, Telling Our Story, that chronicles the Plan for Transformation’s implementation through the eyes of the residents who lived through it.
Orenstein is also known for two nationally broadcast PBS documentaries, The Democratic Promise: The Life and Legacy of Saul Alinsky (1999) and American Idealist: The Story of Sargent Shriver (2008). Darlene Clark Hine, Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies and History at Northwestern University and a past president of the Organization of American Historians, wrote that American Idealist is, “the best depiction of the War on Poverty I have ever seen on film.” Historian Michael Kazin of Georgetown University, author of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, called American Idealist “an exceptional achievement. One of the best documentaries ever made about the history of the 1960s.”