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Brad Lichtenstein on ‘As Goes Janesville’

Oct. 25, 2012
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Recognizing that the oldest General Motors (GM) plant in the nation was shutting down an hour and 15 minutes from his doorstep and wanting to tell an insightful story about the recession that would resonate nationwide, Milwaukee filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein began filming As Goes Janesville in 2008. The award-winning documentary, which focuses on “America’s debate over the future of our middle class,” follows laid-off Janesville GM plant workers as they attempt to start again, a local bank president and other business leaders promoting a “pro-business agenda,” and maverick state Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) seeking to mend his divided state while protecting workers’ rights. 


What did you think of Janesville’s attempt to “reinvent” itself?

I just don’t feel like I’m the person to ask that question to; I’m not economic development people. What I draw from the movie and what I witnessed and the way I tell the story was that there was a failure to include everybody at the table in the process of economic development. … My take-away is that one of the biggest obstacles to economic development, not just in Janesville, but all over the country, is political polarization. … You know, if I was going to suggest something different, it would be that Janesville maybe look to cities like Columbus, Ohio, that have gained a lot of attention doing economic development in a very inclusive way, and by many counts a rather imaginative way.


Considering that he’s from Janesville, what did you make of Congressman Ryan speaking out against government spending while often voting in favor of it?

I think that we all know now that Paul Ryan supported stimulus dollars and federal dollars to assist in auto recovery and support for dislocated workers. Personally, I think that that was a smart thing to do. I think it is more a tragedy of our politics that we have created these false dichotomies between those who hate government and those who love government, when in fact the government and the private sector are entwined in almost every element of our economy. … It would be so much better if we would live in a time when our political discourse could be more complicated and nuanced and we wouldn’t have to divide everybody into these camps.


Has all of the attention you’ve received been more than you bargained for?

Yes (laughs). I’ve never had it happen where the movie itself has become part of the continual news cycle, and that is what happened with this. It made it really uncomfortable in a lot of ways, but in a way it’s been good because people are paying attention to a film that is an important part of the conversation we need to have about the economic development of the middle class and political polarization. On the other hand, it has been difficult because a lot of people have already made up their minds about this movie because of the (Gov. Scott Walker) 28-second “divide and conquer” clip. As you point out, the film is very fair and gives you great access to all of the characters and treats everyone very humanly. Nonetheless, there are a lot of people who will never discover that on their own.

For more information, visit asgoesjanesville.com or 371productions.com.


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