Whatever Happened to Wisconsin Nice?


Once the poster child for bipartisan practical politics, the Badger State has become an ideological battleground in recent years. What happened to the middle? Wandering around the state to find out are former state Senators Dale Schultz and Tim Cullen–one a Republican, one a Democrat. Visiting a gun show, an anti-Trump protest, and a conservative talk radio gathering, they look for insight into what to expect for the state’s political future. A film by Brad Lichtenstein, director of the Sundance virtual reality film Across the Line, Peabody nominated radio series Precious Lives, and Emmy nominated film As Goes Janesville. Original music by Trapper Schoepp.

The Backstory:

Whatever happened to the politics of Wisconsin nice?  During the administration of Governor Scott Walker, bitter partisan and ideological bloodletting has become the norm in Madison.  But the elements of the politics of division were already there.  Small town and rural resentment of the big cities, Milwaukee and Madison, where voters felt their problems with unemployment and poverty were being ignored, reinforced an existing suburban anger in places like Waukesha County, where the radio hosts like Charlie Sykes are conservative stars.

Wisconsin remains an important battleground in 2016.  While the state hasn’t voted for a GOP presidential candidate since 1984, its electorate is split.  Off year statewide elections have produced conservatives like Governor Walker and Senator Ron Johnson, while presidential years produced Senate’s only openly gay member, Tammy Baldwin.

So how bad has it gotten and is there any common ground left in Wisconsin?

About the Film:

Wandering around the state to find out are former state Senators Dale Schultz and Tim Cullen, one a Republican, one a Democrat, once leaders of their legislative parties, and old friends.  Visiting a gun show, a Black Lives Matter anti-Trump protest, Charlie Sykes’ annual “Insight” gathering, and radio talk shows, they look for answers and an insight into what to expect in the state’s political future.

About the Filmmaker: 

Brad Lichtenstein is an award-winning filmmaker & president of 371 Productions.  He’s won two Duponts: one for the recent Al Jazeera America series Hard Earned (produced by Kartemquin Films) and another for his 2001 film Ghosts of Attica (produced with Lumiere Productions). His first virtual reality film, Across the Line, about accessing abortion amid hostile protests, premiered at Sundance in 2016. His 2012 movie As Goes Janesville (PBS/Independent Lens) was nominated for a News & Doc Emmy. Penelope, his film about a nursing home that performs the Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view, aired on PBS in 2015. 371’s Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff, premiered in June 2014 on Al Jazeera America’s Fault Lines and streams on Al Jazeera English. He’s the executive producer of  “Precious Lives”, a radio/podcast and print series about young people & gun violence. 371’s tech projects include BizVizz, a corporate accountability app available for iPhones. 371 is in development on American Reckoning, a feature doc about unsolved civil rights era murders. There are Jews Here, a feature doc about disappearing Jewish communities will premiere in July of 2016. When Claude Got Shot, a feature doc about race and gun violence in America, is in production. Brad’s also produced for Frontline and Bill Moyers. His work is supported by Bader Philanthropies, Blue Mountain Center, Creative Capital, the Fetzer Institute, The Forward Fund, ITVS, the Ford, HKH, MacArthur, Nathan Cummings, Retirement Research & Tides Foundations, as well as the  IDA and Mary L. Nohl Fellowship. Brad is the founder of docUWM, a documentary program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.