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Wisconsin's Mining Standoff

A scene from "Wisconsin's Mining Standoff" shows a farm located a mile from the proposed Gogebic Taconite mine.

A film on the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron mine in northern Wisconsin will air on the cable channel Al Jazeera America this weekend.

Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff,” a 25-minute film from director Brad Lichtenstein (“As Goes Janesville”) and his Milwaukee-based 371 Productions, will air at 6 p.m. Saturday on the cable channel, which is not carried on Charter Communications, but can be found on DIRECTV Ch. 347 and DISH Network Ch. 215.

The film follows the corporate spending that led to a bill being passed in February 2013 allowing the creation of what could be the nation’s largest open-pit mine.

“For me it’s about the state of our democracy, and how corporate interests are able to wield more influence over the writing of a law, as opposed to ordinary people like you and me,” Lichtenstein said.

While “As Goes Janesville” and other 371 Productions have been made entirely by the Milwaukee-based company, “Standoff” was pitched to Al Jazeera and created in partnership with them. With Lichtenstein directing, the film follows Al Jazeera correspondent Josh Rushing (memorable to documentary fans as the Army press officer in the 2003 film “Control Room”) as he heads to northern Wisconsin, interviewing both mining supporters and opponents. It will air as an episode of the show “Fault Lines.”

“We’re one of their first commissions for the series,” Lichtenstein said. “What we pitched to them was consistent with the theme of ‘Fault Lines,’ which is that they want to make films about issues around America where people are divided.”

In that vein, Lichtenstein said the filmmakers were scrupulous on including all sides of the argument. That fairness, he said, probably helped convince locals in the area to talk to them about the proposed mine.

“We always have to be good journalists, and make sure we’re telling a story that is fact-based, and that gives comfort to people to talk to us,” he said. “I think we probably did the longest and most thorough interview with the company spokesperson of any news outlet.”

Lichtenstein said he was used to making feature-length documentaries like “As Goes Janesville,” so it was very hard to be in the editing room trying to turn nine months of filming on a complicated subject into a 25-minute movie.

Al-Jazeera also put the film through an intensive fact-checking process.

“They’re such a committed journalistic network, so we spend a ton of time fact-checking," he said. "It was really intense. Their standards are very high.”


Rob Thomas is the features editor and social media editor for the Capital Times, as well as its film critic. He joined the Cap Times in 1999 and has written about movies, music, food and books.