Filmmaker to look at life after GM

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Stacy Vogel
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
— Reporters from across the country descended on Janesville when General Motors ended production here in December.

Filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein wants to see what happens after the rest of the camera crews go home.

The Milwaukee man is producing and directing a documentary for Public Broadcasting Service about Janesville and its life after GM. He plans to spend the next two years filming public officials and everyday residents for a spring 2012 broadcast.

"We're going to be able to put this historic moment in perspective," Lichtenstein said as he and his assistants grabbed brunch at Pit Stop Barbeque & Deli after interviewing Rep. Mike Sheridan.

Lichtenstein is no stranger to Janesville. His wife, Anne Basting, grew up here, and he lived here for a few months after transplanting to Wisconsin from New York.

As the recession deepened, Lichtenstein knew he wanted to capture the moment and thought Janesville would be the perfect place to do it, he said.

Janesville is a microcosm of issues playing out all over the country, he said. At first glance, it might look like a solidly blue-collar, Democratic stronghold, yet it's also the home of Paul Ryan, a rising star of the Republican party.

The city, like many Midwestern towns, is struggling to deal with changes in the manufacturing industry.

Yet Janesville also is unique because of its sense of community, Lichtenstein said. Laid-off autoworkers hesitate to move because their families have lived here for generations. People know their neighbors and participate in civic activities.

"The question for me is how can we show the country this very real human desire to preserve small-town life in America and survive economic recession?" he said.

He will do that by following several laid-off workers and their families over the next two years. At the same time, he wants the entire community to become a "character" in the film.

"I want to be able to portray the close-knit-ness of this community," he said.

He also wants to positively affect the community he's filming. He hopes to work with PBS to find ways to help dislocated workers, perhaps by teaching media literacy and promoting available resources, he said.

Nicole Brown, associate producer, said the film will touch people.

"You can't help but hope for a good ending, and I think that's what the audience will connect with," she said. "A lot of people are going through this right now."

Even if the recession is over by the time the documentary airs, Lichtenstein believes it will stand the test of time, he said.

"People go through periods where they have to reinvent themselves for all kinds of reasons, and the best way to do that is to hear the stories of others," he said.

"In the end, it's going to be very honest and very inspirational."

Last updated: 10:51 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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