State's mood affected Janesville documentary's focus

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Thursday, May 17, 2012
— Brad Lichtenstein came to Janesville in early 2009 with an idea for a documentary on how a community and its residents respond to economic upheaval.

The finished film he rolls out sometime this summer, "As Goes Janesville," will be much more than Lichtenstein and his crew envisioned.

While not complete, the film has generated significant buzz in the last week.

In a clip released to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gov. Scott Walker refers to a "divide and conquer" strategy for dealing with the state's public unions. Walker made the comment in a conversation with Diane Hendricks, a Beloit businesswoman, staunch Walker supporter and co-chairman of Rock County 5.0, an economic development organization formed to create jobs in the area after GM's departure.

Lichtenstein's film centers on five people. Three are displaced workers, including two from Janesville who transfer to a GM plant in Fort Wayne, Ind.

The film also focuses on Mary Willmer, the other co-chairwoman of Rock County 5.0, and Tim Cullen, who co-chaired a task force that tried to lure GM back before he was elected to the state Senate.

"As Goes Janesville," now in final editing, is billed as a film that "catapults viewers to the front lines of America's debate over the future of our middle class—a debate that has become a pitched battle over unions in the normally tranquil state of Wisconsin."

Lichtenstein previewed about a third of the film Wednesday night in Milwaukee. A crowd of about 150 filled an auditorium at Discovery World to see nine clips and ask questions of Lichtenstein.

The crowd was not overtly partisan, but applause was given to clips involving Cullen and guffaws were reserved for those with Walker and Hendricks.

Other than Lichtenstein's family members, who once lived in Janesville, only three other people from Janesville were spotted in the audience.

In the early stages of making the film, Lichtenstein said he had no idea that the state's political climate would change so dramatically and that it would ultimately affect the story he was telling.

"For sure, the focus changed," Lichtenstein said. "I had to keep asking myself how to tell the story of the uproar over the end of collective bargaining from the perspective of my subjects.

"Every film is perfect in the beginning because it's just an idea; it becomes less perfect as you start making it."

Lichtenstein and his crew shot about 250 hours of raw footage. The film is now about 82 minutes long, although that could change, he said.

The film will premiere at an as-yet-undetermined film festival later this spring. He said it would also get a showing in Rock County.

Ultimately, "As Goes Janesville" will air on the PBS show "Independent Lens," most likely in late October or early November.

"We expect that it will be in the living rooms of 1.5 million homes," Lichtenstein said.

With its economic troubles and close-knit nature, Janesville served as the perfect microcosm of issues playing out across the country.

"The point of the film is to bring people together at a very polarizing time and get folks talking about some very important issues," he said. "I hope that's what it accomplishes."

Last updated: 8:20 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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