By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 25, 2022 at 8:01 AM

While Milwaukee is still talking about John Gurda’s great Jones Island documentary, which premiered last week on Milwaukee PBS, news of another neighborhood history doc has arrived.

The Brady Street Business Improvement District #11 is partnering with University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s documentary media center, doc|UWM, on a film about the Brady Street neighborhood and its history.

The film, made by UWM Peck School of the Arts Department of Film, Video, Animation, and New Genres lecturer and doc|UWM Program Director Sean Kafer and his students, will include conversations with historians, residents and others who will share stories and insights into the rich neighborhood history, which includes Native American settlements, Polish and Italian immigrants, Milwaukee’s counterculture and more.

“This is an exciting opportunity for UW-Milwaukee Film students to get real-life research and production experience and prepare them for post-graduate life,” says Kafer, whose first feature-length film, “Valley Maker,” about a raft trip down the Mississippi River, premiered at the Milwaukee Film Festival.

Sean Kafer
Sean Kafer (center) with doc|UWM students.

“That's our goal with doc|UWM and we're fortunate enough to team up with Rachel (Taylor) and the Brady Street BID who've given us that opportunity. Collaborating with real clients is something you can't teach in the classroom.”

Kafer – who is directing the documentary and has 20 years of filmmaking experience – says that students can choose one of two docUWM courses that offer hands-on, real-work experience working on the production of professional documentaries.

“We've created films that touch on diverse topics such as environmental impact, mental health, community activism, history, holocaust survival stories, Milwaukee's LGBTQ history, trafficking and more,” he says.

“We're funded by the clients who hire us to create films on a number of subjects that push for a strong community and a healthy future.”

Kafer says that Taylor – who is Brady Street BID's executive director – contacted doc|UWM with the idea of creating the film, and he jumped at the opportunity.

“We haven't produced a lot of historical documentaries recently and this felt like the perfect project to get students involved in,” he says. “They need that first-hand experience before they graduate and find themselves in the work world.

“The project came about because Rachel Taylor was listening to people of Brady Street. A lot of residents who reside in the neighborhood knew it was time. I think it's a wonderful idea and that there are many neighborhoods in this city that should have their story told. I'd love to continue going in that direction with doc|UWM. The students love it and are learning a lot along the way.”

production teamX

Filming and post-production work – along with fundraising – is expected to be completed in 2023, with a planned release date early the following year.

Then, the goal is to submit the completed doc to local and national film festivals.

“We're going to give this project a year and a half to research and accumulate the stories,” says Kafer. “There's going to be a lot of editing involved with the students so that we can get this piece down to 50 minutes.

“Along the way we're looking for stories, characters, photographs and home films that will lead us up to the rich, diverse neighborhood that it is today. We'll likely witness the neighborhood change before our eyes as the district is considering making Brady Street a walking street.”

Kafer says that the majority of doc|UWM students are juniors and seniors, but he expects they’ll continue to work on the documentary even after graduation.

“I believe many of the students will be with us until the film is complete,” he says. “The energy has electric. Before we filmed our first interview, we ran through a rehearsal on location overlooking the Milwaukee River. It allows us to work through any kinks and it built up the confidence in advance.

“The day of the interview, the students were able to set up quickly and were surefooted. The footage was beautiful and historian Frank Alioto's interview and connection with the students was superb.”

One of the students involved is Erin Hastings, who is a production assistant on the film and also an intern at Brady Street BID.

“This documentary is an excellent way to showcase the rich history and community of Brady Street,” she says. “Not only am I beyond excited to watch this project unfold for myself, but also I can’t wait to share these chronicles of Brady Street with the public.

“Together we can keep a fundamental part of history alive by listening to the diverse experiences and insights of the residents who have made Brady Street what it is today.”

Organizers are seeking to raise $65,000 through the Brady Area Foundation for Art and Education. If you’d like to make a tax deductible donation, please notify Brady Street BID via email ( and then make your check payable to the foundation and mail to:

BAFAE: Brady St Documentary
Attn: Pat Suminksi
1220A E. Brady St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202

For more information, visit

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.