Brad Lichtenstein and Nicole Brown, "Chosen Towns" and "Almost Home"

Brad Lichtenstein and Nicole Brown, "Chosen Towns" and "Almost Home"

Premiere date: Jan 13, 2009

"Chosen Towns"

They live in Rhinelander and Kenosha, Sheboygan and La Crosse - and many places in between. Jews have been a part of more than 300 communities across Wisconsin since the 18th century. Whether members of a small, struggling synagogue in Appleton or the only Jewish family in Viroqua, all have faced the same enduring dilemma: how to balance their Jewish identities with the practical need to assimilate?

This issue is sensitively explored in the new documentary film Chosen Towns: The Story of Jews in Wisconsin's Small Communities. The documentary is a partnership between docUWM and the Wisconsin Society for Jewish Learning's Wisconsin Small Jewish Communities History Project. Chosen Towns was produced by docUWM, a documentary media center based in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Peck School of the Art's film department that offers students opportunities to produce professional work under the guidance of faculty.

The hour-long film follows the lives of nine Jewish families who span the breadth of the state and 150 years. From a short-lived Jewish farming experiment in Arpin to the dynamic "miracle" synagogue in Wausau, from a Rhinelander boy who received little Jewish education to the Janesville girl who became Rabbi Dena Feingold of Kenosha, the complexities of small-town Jewish life emerge in this unique documentary.


"Almost Home"

"Almost Home" is a feature-length, cinema verité documentary chronicling a year in the life of a retirement community in America's Midwest. It appears on PBS just as a tidal wave of baby boomers reaches their 60s; meaning that half of our country is reckoning either with its own aging or that of a loved one. This is no easy task for Americans steeped in denial about aging and frightened by the specter of dependency. We prefer to combat aging with pills, creams, surgery, and humor instead of understanding its realities and planning ahead. Media only deepens the denial by proffering images of "positive aging" like 90-year-old parachuters, while shunning images of frailty and dementia. Almost Home rescues real stories of aging — frightening, tender, funny … and honest — from an exile of denial. Almost Home follows one couple bonded by their struggle with Alzheimer's and another divided by the challenges of Parkinson's; "sandwich generation" children torn between caring for their parents and managing their own affairs; nursing assistants doing crucial but unsavory work for poverty wages while juggling precarious lives at home; healthy elders who fear the day they may have to move to the dreaded nursing home; and a visionary nursing home director feverishly working to alleviate such fear by transforming his impersonal, regimented hospital-like institution into a warm "home" that promotes autonomy and inspires independence instead of fear.

The stories unfold at Saint John's on the Lake in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a retirement community (independent living, assisted living and nursing home) reinventing its 135-year-old medical model of care (think hospital) into a social one (think home). The visionaries behind this "culture-change" revolution seek to tear down traditional walls between residents, staff, and families and to replace the stigma of nursing homes as institutions of boredom and despair with a vision of "community" where people live rich and full lives. To succeed, they will have to win over skeptical managers; resistant nurses mired in regulations; overworked, underpaid nursing assistants; and complacent residents and families accustomed to being excluded from many of the decisions that affect them.

A character-driven, true-life drama, "Almost Home" engages viewers while eliciting important issues such as: coping with disability and dementia; adapting to how aging changes relationships; negotiating caregiving responsibilities; pre


Brad Lichtenstein | Director

Director, producer, outreach director and founder of 371 Productions, has been working in film and television since 1992. Early credits include associate producer of Frontline’s Peabody award-winning presidential election year special, Choice ’96 (PBS) and, with Lumiere Productions in New York, where he worked for 7 years, associate producer of the PBS series With God on Our Side: The Rise of The Religious Right in America. Also with Lumiere he produced (with Ali Pomeroy) and directed Andre’s Lives, a portrait of the “Jewish Schindler” and the Discovery Channel documentary Safe, about three women who sought refuge from domestic violence in a secret safehouse. He was one of the producers of the PBS series Local News, about a year-in-the-life of a local news station in Charlotte, NC, and helped to organize a nation-wide outreach effort that brought news professionals into constructive dialogue with the communities they cover. In 2001 he produced (with Amanda McBaine and David Van Taylor) and directed Ghosts of Attica, a feature documentary about the infamous 1971 prison uprising and ensuing 30-year journey to justice pursued by former inmates and guards. Ghosts of Attica was awarded a Dupont-Columbia Award for Excellence in Journalism in 2002. Lichtenstein designed an outreach program for Ghosts of Attica that brings prisoners and their guards together for discussion of prison reform "with no bars between them." During the aftermath of 9.11 he produced and directed (with David Van Taylor) the PBS documentary Caught in The Crossfire, which chronicled the lives of three Arab New Yorkers in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. He has also produced for the weekly PBS series Now With Bill Moyers, served as consulting producer for the film Army of One, about army recruits who joined the army after 9.11, and produced (with Lisa Gildehaus) and directed the PBS documentary Almost Home, about people who live and work in a retirement community transforming the traditional institutional nursing home into a true home. Brad’s next film features DJ Spooky in What We Got, about privatization’s encroachment on public goods. He teaches documentary film production in the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee’s film department.


Nicole Brown | Editor

Nicole Brown says in her own words, "I joined docUWM as a student my senior year to work on the documentary now known as Chosen Towns. After graduating, I stayed to edit the piece sacrificing my tan because our edit room doesn't have any windows. I'm learning a lot staying with the piece through post production on its way to being a real documentary and airing on Wisconsin Public Television. Brad found a way for me to stay with docUWM by having me produce a documentary on David Greenberger. My other experience includes working as an additional production assistant on Public Enemies, directed by Michael Mann. When I grow up, I hope to make my own documentaries and am also interested in working on more major motion pictures. I'm looking forward to a career in the industry even if it means surviving on Ramen noodles for most of the time!"

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