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'The Exchange in White America' premieres at the Milwaukee Film Festival

Posted at 8:56 AM, May 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-10 09:56:28-04

MILWAUKEE — A robust crowd was on hand at Milwaukee's Oriental Theater for the premier of "The Exchange in White America: Kaukauna and King 50 Years Later."

The documentary highlights a 1966 class project where the students performed the play "In White America." White students lived with Black families and Black students lived with white families.

Producer Joanne Williams explains, "The purpose of the exchange was to find out how other people lived and to perform the play. But to do that, they had to live with each other."

Linda Plutchak, 76, took part in the 1966 exchange.

"It made me unafraid of Black people," Plutchak said. "In Kaukauna, people were actually afraid of Black people. I met Father [James] Groppi when I was here, then I marched with him in Madison."

Williams was honored her documentary was selected for the Milwaukee Film Festival.

"It makes me feel grateful, happy, and incredibly nervous," she said, laughing.

A lot of the old footage was found in the TMJ4 archives. Former TMJ4 news producer Gary Reistad was one of the film's writers.

"I grew up in Appleton, a couple of miles south from Kaukanna," Reistad shared. "This entire exchange program happened a couple of miles from my house. I never knew a thing about it until Joanne (Williams) started talking about it a few years ago."

Williams' sons also worked on the film. JB Nicholson helped with production and son Chistopher Nicholson helped with social media.

"I assisted my mother with audio, visual, and lighting whenever she needed a place to interview a subject. She ever needed I would help her and look for a location," JB shared.

In these days of sharp divisions, many who worked on the film say it gave them hope.

"This shows that we can all come together," Christopher said. "It's a very good cross-cultural experience that we don't have to let our differences define it. It was a long process. Six years, but every minute was absolutely worth it. Blood, sweat, and tears she put into it and having it turn into something beautiful."

Reistad adds, "They went into this with their eyes open and their ears open and they learned lessons for their entire lives."

Williams states, "You can meet someone you don't look like, and sit and talk about what you agree upon. And if you do that, you will find that everyone is just human."

Plutchak says the exchange changed her life.

"I learned how important it was for Black people and white people to share their backgrounds, because our differences made us stronger," she said.

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