Greg Jeschke left his job as the anchor on Channel 27 News just a little more than two years ago.
He had become one of Madison’s most watched news personalities in the 14 years he worked there, known for his steady, laid-back style as an anchor on the evening news, but equally as well for the documentaries he annually produced with Channel 27 camera crews.
Those documentaries, ambitious projects for a market the size of Madison, included in-depth looks at Madison and Wisconsin’s racial disparities, the state’s drinking culture, its environmental heritage and one of the few local television examinations of the crucial issue of climate change.
Turned out that the 40-year broadcast news veteran — his first job was at age 16 with his hometown radio station, WIBU in Poynette — had a passion for producing cutting-edge documentaries, long-form journalism in a medium best known for quick, short stories and what viewers have come to know as sound bites.
So in March of 2018 he decided to take the plunge, quit his day job — Channel 27 was the last of several TV posts he had held, including stints in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon — and set off to do some media consulting while devoting much of his time to producing cutting-edge documentaries.
[Q&A: Greg Jeschke focusing his career on documentaries]
Well, the first two of them are now here and they’re winners. While they are currently available on his website, he’s sent proposals to the likes of Netflix, Discovery and others and is hoping that, perhaps, public TV will pick it up for wider dissemination. They really should.
He had hoped to do a public premiere of the first, “INterDEPENDENCE,” a stereotype-busting, close-up look at the daily lives and incredible challenges that face so many of Wisconsin’s men and women with disabilities, but the COVID-19 crisis intervened. You can view it on Jeschke’s website, JDog Productions.
The second, “Justified Journey,” was just released Thursday and it, too, can be viewed on his website. Both are free to watch, though Jeschke set up a GoFundMe campaign to offset expenses for producing the projects.
You’ll be blown away by the story of Madison’s Rev. Alex Gee and his search for his roots in “Justified Journey,” and the remarkable story he uncovered about his family in the process. The title is a play of sorts on Gee’s acclaimed “Justified Anger” essay in The Capital Times back in 2013 that served to launch a new movement in the city to address racial and social justice inequities that have continued to plague our schools, city and state.
Jeschke’s documentary follows Gee to Mississippi and then New Orleans to find the true story of his ancestors. It turns out that the pastor’s great-grandfather was the product of a rape of a slave woman by Gee’s great-great grandfather, a relatively wealthy slave-holding landowner, who decides to raise the boy along with his other white son. Gee follows the family tree — one branch white, the other black — discovers his white cousins, and captures the lessons the entire journey uncovered. It’s a remarkable and inspiring story.
[Justified anger: Rev. Alex Gee says Madison is failing its African-American community]
“INterDEPENDENCE,” meanwhile, tells the stories of people with disabilities and unveils the many challenges and, yes, uncaring prejudices they endure every day of their lives. Included among the several stories Jeschke finds throughout Wisconsin are two well-known local people, Assemblyman Jimmy Anderson of Fitchburg, who was paralyzed from his waist down after a drunk driver hit his family car, and Nicki Vander Meulen, the first autistic person to gain a seat on the Madison School Board who is now running for the State Assembly.
What I like best about what Jeschke and his crew have done with these two documentaries is that not only do they tackle tough stories about real people, they cause us to re-examine how we perceive them. They make us think.