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At Home In Utopia

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A home of one's own: that's the American dream. But what happens when the dreamers are immigrants, factory workers, and Communists?

In the mid-1920s, thousands of Jewish immigrant garment workers managed to catapult themselves out of urban slums and ghettos by pooling their resources and building four cooperatively owned and run apartment complexes in the Bronx. They believed that owning one's home went a long way toward controlling one's fate.

At Home in Utopia focuses on the United Workers Cooperative Colony -- also known as the Coops -- the most grassroots and member-driven of the Jewish labor housing cooperatives, where many of the residents were Communists or sympathetic to the communist movement. Beginning as a stalwartly secular East European Jewish working class enclave, they were part of an international movement, the power of which blows minds today.

In the 1930s they opted to bring their passion for racial justice home, by racially integrating their own cooperative house, with unexpected consequences. An epic tale of the struggle for equity and justice across two generations, the film tracks the rise and fall of one community from the 1920s into the 1950s, paying close attention to the passions that bound them together and those that tore them apart. Along the way, At Home in Utopia bears witness to lives lived with courage across the barriers of race, nation, language, convention, and sometimes even common sense.
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“At times the mixture of courage and naiveté is enough to break your heart.”-- Ty Burr, The Boston Globe

"Rarely do documentary films entwine the details of  working class family life with larger political events such as the Bolshevik Revolution, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Pearl Harbor, and post-World War II union organizing. At Home in Utopia succeeds in encompassing it all." --Dolores Hayden, Professor of Architecture, Urbanism, and American Studies, Yale University.

"At Home in Utopia brings back to life a lost world of American radicalism... Sympathetic but clear-eyed, itshows a side of the American past most people have no idea ever existed." -- Joshua B. Freeman, Professor of History, Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York

“... a beautifully conceived, excellently made film...”-- Rebecca Adler Schiff, College of Staten Island, CUNY, in EMRO.

At Home in Utopia won the Oral History Association Biennial Award for Outstanding Use of Oral History in a Non-print Format, 2011. This award is given to a work that “makes significant and outstanding use of oral history to interpret an historical event, person, place, or way of life.”

At Home in Utopia was broadcast on PBS Independent Lens in 2009.

At Home in Utopia has screened in many film festivals and conferences in the US and abroad including the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the New York Jewish Film Festival, the Boston Jewish Film Festival, the Haifa International Film Festival, the Copenhagen Jewish Film Festival, and the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, the Labor Notes Converence in Detroit, and the National Worker Cooperative Conference in New Orleans.
Michal Goldman Michal Goldman is an Academy-award-winning filmmaker. She has always been especially interested in the relationship between people's ideas and the life-choices they actually make. Michal saw the story of the Allerton Coops as a chance to make a film about the way a militant community of factory workers tried to live its ideals during and after the Great Depression. The fact that these immigrants, most of whom barely spoke English, decided in the 1930s to racially integrate their cooperative, captured her imagination. The film took years to complete, and by the time At Home in Utopia was done, the present had caught up with the past; America was in the midst of its own economic meltdown, and we had elected our first African-American president. Michal herself began to learn the craft of documentary filmmaking in the 1960s as an apprentice editor to the Maysles brothers, and then as an assistant to Ed Pincus and David Newman, who were editing Black Natchez, a documentary about Civil Rights organizing in Natchez, Mississippi. She spent a long time working on other people's films - including The Exorcist, Caged Heat, and Death Race 2000 - before starting to produce her own work. In addition to At Home in Utopia , her films are A Jumpin' Night in the Garden of Eden, the first film to document the klezmer revival, Umm Kullthum, A Voice like Egypt, about music and anti-colonialism in the Middle East, and Epiphany in Progress, documenting the first year of a new faith-based inner city school. She is currently developing two very different films: a historical documentary about Gamal Abdel Nasser, and a film about a young village headmaster in West Bengal. Michal Goldman is available to present and discuss her work.

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