‘A New Home’ Celebrates St. Louis’ Bosnian Community

By Lynn Venhaus

In “A New Home,” St. Louis documentary filmmaker Joey Puleo examines the story of Bosnian War refugees fleeing here 30 years ago.

The film, winner of the Best Documentary Feature at this summer’s St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, will be presented on Sunday, Nov. 6, at 2:15 p.m. at the Galleria 6 Cinemas, as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival.

“This film was made as a complete labor of love. To be trusted with telling the harrowing and triumphant story of the Bosnians in St. Louis was not a responsibility that I took lightly,” Puleo said. “Their courageous resolve inspired me to give this film all I could give and I cannot wait for the opportunity to share this film with them and the St. Louis area.”

Puleo explained that when Bosnians fled their homes to escape the war in 1992, many ended up in St. Louis, largely because of its affordable housing and available jobs. The new arrivals began assimilating, starting their own businesses, and transforming a once dilapidated South City neighborhood in the shadow of the Bevo Mill into a thriving “Little Bosnia.”

Over the ensuing three decades, an estimated 70,000 Bosnians have migrated to St. Louis, making it the most inhabited area for Bosnians outside of Bosnia itself.  A New Home tells the story of these refugees’ perseverance and determination to not only start life over but prosper.

Puleo said nearly all the interview subjects will be on hand, including former Missouri Congressman Russ Carnahan, who is featured in the documentary.

Other luminaries in the film include Francis Slay, former mayor of St. Louis; Anna Crosslin, past president of the International Institute of St. Louis; Doug Moore, a former journalist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Patrick McCarthy, author of “After the Fall: Srebrenica Survivors in St. Louis”; Ben Moore, Senior Researcher at the Center for Bosnian Studies; and five Bosnian War survivors and refugees.

When it premiered in July as part of the Showcase, it received an enthusiastic reception, and won Best Documentary Feature, with a selection for SLIFF.

“The audience response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and we cannot wait for more people to get the opportunity to see ‘A New Home’ at the St. Louis International Festival,” Puleo said.

“With the war in Ukraine currently raging and thousands of its citizens displaced and seeking new homes, the plight of the Bosnians remains as relevant as ever,” Puleo said.

This film is his follow-up to “America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill,” which holds the record for most popular film ever screened at the St. Louis festival.

“America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill” was shown on Nine PBS and is available to stream on Amazon Prime and other platforms. It is also available for purchase as a DVD at local outlets, such as Schnucks grocery stores.

“A New Home” will be made available late November, Puleo said.

“Our plan is to have it available on Amazon Prime Video to either rent or purchase,” he said.

Executive Producer Rio Vitale and Puleo began pre-production in the spring of 2021, with hours of VHS footage and more than a thousand photographs generously donated to the project to utilize during the editing process.

A New Home

About The Creators:

Joseph Puleo, Director/Producer

Joseph Puleo was born on July 13, 1992, in St. Louis. He attended Lindenwood University and graduated from their school of film in 2014.

His short film, “Top Son” (2016) was a Top 5 finalist in Kevin Hart’s LOL Network “Eat My Shorts Competition” where it screened at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal.

His debut feature-length documentary, “America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill” (2020) was shown on PBS stations across the country and received multiple awards.

Rio Vitale, Executive Producer

Rio Vitale was born in St. Louis, and has 40 years of experience in the financial brokerage industry. In 2014, Vitale published his first book, St. Louis’s The Hill. In 2016, he was knighted by the Italian government for his extensive work in the Italian community. In 2020, Vitale began a new venture into film production, executive producing the award-winning feature-length documentary, America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill.

Joey films Medina and Adis Hasanagic and their children

Here is our Take Ten with Joey:

1. What is special about your latest project?

“The story. My new documentary “A New Home,” is about Bosnian War refugees fleeing to St. Louis, which is now home to more displaced Bosnians than any other city in the world.

I think this film is going to be an eye-opening experience for a lot of people in the St. Louis area and I hope that everyone who watches the documentary leaves with a newfound respect for our Bosnian neighbors, I know I did making it.”

2. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?

“I fell in love with the cinema going to the movies every Sunday with my Dad. From a young age, I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker and my parents were always incredibly supportive of me and my dreams.”

3. How would your friends describe you?

“I think my friends would say that I’m an extremely, driven, focused, and intense person. They’d also probably reference my sense of humor as well which can be very sarcastic.”

4. How do you like to spend your spare time?

“Well, I haven’t really had any spare time at all in the last year since I’ve been so focused on finishing ‘A New Home’ in time for the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase. But I am looking forward to taking it easy for a while and trying to relax and spend some time with my wife and our dog.”

5. What is your current obsession?

“I’m good for an Elvis kick about once a year, so with all of the buzz around the new Elvis movie I’ve been subjecting my wife to a lot of the King. “

6. What would people be surprised to find out about you?

Probably that I didn’t start out wanting to be a documentarian, but instead a comedic screenwriter/director. My first short film was a mockumentary called ‘Top Son,’ which was about a Tom Cruise impersonator. That film ended up being picked up by Kevin Hart’s LOL Network and showing at the Just For Laughs festival.  So, I think I took a lot of people by surprise in the St. Louis film scene with ‘America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill’ being a historical documentary.

7. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?

“I originally went to Lindenwood University to study sports broadcasting/journalism. In my second semester, I was taking a class called “Intro to Television” that was taught by Rift Fournier, who had been a writer in Hollywood for 40 years working on TV shows like NYPD Blue and Charlie’s Angels.

After reading a few papers of mine, Rift called me into his office and told me that he thought I showed a lot of promise as a writer and a storyteller and persuaded me to change my major to film.

Being a filmmaker had always been a dream of mine, but being from the Midwest and coming from a middle-class family with no connection to Hollywood, I always thought it was too much of a long shot. Having someone like Rift tell me that he thought I had the talent changed the course of my life and I’ll forever be indebted to him.”

8. Who do you admire most?

“My dad, Joseph Sr.  – He instilled his work ethic in me and made sure that I always gave my best effort in anything I tried.”

9. What is at the top of your bucket list?

Professionally, to win an Oscar. Personally, to visit Sicily, specifically Cinisi, where my family is from.

10. How were you affected by the current pandemic years, and anything you would like to share about what got you through the pre-vaccine part, with shutdowns, and any lesson learned during the isolation periods?

“The pandemic happened right as we were completing, ‘America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill,’ so we had to make the very difficult decision of releasing that film knowing we weren’t going to be able to partake in any public screenings and forego having an in-person festival run.

But what got us through that time period was the incredible outpouring of support that we received from the St. Louis area and beyond. They really made us feel appreciated for this film that we had worked so hard on for two years. That was a very gratifying experience, although not the one that we had initially hoped for.”

11. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?

It should come as no surprise, to visit The Hill and have a meal at any of the incredible restaurants.

12. What’s next?

Right now, I’m focused on our festival run for ‘A New Home.’ We are in talks with Nine PBS to possibly have the film be exclusively available to stream on their website for a period of time and then ultimately have the film end up on Amazon Prime. So. I’ve got a busy next few months ahead of me.”  

More about Joseph Puleo

Age: 30
Birthplace: (South) Saint Louis, Mo
Current location: Affton, Mo
Family: Wife, Julia, and dog, Birdie
Education: BFA in Digital Cinema Arts from Lindenwood University in 2014
Day job: Filmmaker
First job: Bag Boy at a grocery store

First movie you were involved in or made: Top Son, was my first “real” short film outside of college.

Favorite jobs/roles/plays or work in your medium? – The best documentary I have ever seen is Ezra Edelman’s, ‘O.J. : Made in America’

Dream job/opportunity: I’m living my dream

Awards/Honors/Achievements: Silver Telly Award for Best Historical Documentary, Nominated for Best Director & Best Documentary by the Mid-America Emmy’s

Favorite quote/words to live by: “Your job is to get your audience to care about your obsessions.” – Martin Scorsese

A song that makes you happy: “Hold Me,” Fleetwood Mac

Mujo Sehic. one of the interview subjects 

Affton High Graduates – Dzenan Miminovic, Nejva Osmanovic, Nerma Krantic, Adem Niksic 

By Lynn Venhaus

After decades in the entertainment business, Alex Winter has become a multi-hyphenated mainstay, renowned for his work in front of and behind the camera.

Now 57, he remains the face of Bill S. Preston, Esq., in pop culture, but has directed notably high-profile documentaries “Zappa,” “Showbiz Kids” and his tech trilogy, “Downloaded,” “Deep Web” and his latest, “The YouTube Effect.”

“The YouTube Effect” will be one of the opening night films of the 31st annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival. It will be shown at 6:45 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3, at the Galleria 6 Cinemas.

This cautionary tale is meant to be a nuanced look at the tech revolution, how it has evolved, good and bad.

Produced with Gale Anne Hurd, the film examines the impact of YouTube on society, how it has made our lives easier and more enriched, while also presenting dangers that make the world a more perilous place.

“The growth of the online community since I made ‘Downloaded’ and ‘Deep Web’ has made a big impact on society, and Gale and I were looking to tell a story about the changes occurring, and where do we go from here,” he said during a phone interview.

The film had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in June and is currently on the festival circuit, most recently at the Montclair Film Festival.

“It’s been going great,” he said. “We’re bringing it to a lot of festivals, and really happy with the reception.”

Winter is pleased that it’s included in this year’s fest in St. Louis, where his previous films “Downloaded,” “Deep Web” and “Zappa” were also screened.

“I love the festival. It’s my third time in it. I’m always really happy to be part of it and I’m grateful for the film to be shown there so that people in St. Louis can see it,” he said. “I’m not able to be there, things didn’t work out with my schedule, but I’m long overdue for a visit back. I have family and friends there.”

Winter lived in St. Louis as a child, and his first acting gig, a commercial for Kentucky Fried Chicken, was filmed under the Arch, while his first stage role was at the Muny, when he was 10, as one of the orphans in “Oliver!” that starred Vincent Price as Fagin.

His father co-founded Mid-America Dance Company (MADCO) and his mother worked in the dance department at Washington University.

In a previous interview, he spoke about his bond with St. Louis.

“I have a special place in my heart for the city. I’ve always considered myself a Midwesterner. The Midwest has a strong cultural identity, and I have an affinity for it, those core values. I still have a lot of friends there. I spent my formative years there, from 5 to 12, and my dad and brother stayed there, so I was back a lot. It’s always been a second home to me. I feel anchored there,” he said during a phone interview in 2015.

The YouTube Effect

Looking at YouTube

Self-described as a research fanatic dove into this expansive subject.

While he thinks YouTube has been “very equitable in its business model,” for people being able to monetize it as a platform, there needs to be safeguards.

“So that people can have the full spectrum of experiences. There needs to be accountability. It’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s good for people to be aware about it,” he said.

Winter thinks the public needs to take more responsibility about the input and influence, and push for more regulations, not be passive about it.

Winter said he is concerned about “the misinformation apocalypse” and the negative fallout from political ideologies, especially conspiracy theories.

“There is a lot of power in that,” he said, noting how social media gave voice to marginalized people.

YouTube has been singled out as how the Christ Church mass shooter in New Zealand in 2020 (51 people in two mosques) became radicalized.

The movie seeks to find a balance, he said.

“There are a lot of good things going on on You Tube. I’m not wagging a finger at them,” he said. “I respect technology. It’s here to stay. We need to figure out safeguards, changes need to be made.”

Here’s the trailer: https://www.facebook.com/YouTubeEffect/videos/1137513703766536/

Winter said he is in negotiations for the film to become available on streaming services.

“I can’t talk about it, but we’re hoping to have it wide in early January-February,” he said.

For more information, visit: https://www.cinemastlouis.org/sliff/festival-home

Alex Winter (left) and Keanu Reeves in a promotional photo for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Fest Favorite

Winter appeared at the festival in 2015, when he received the prestigious Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award after his documentary, “Deep Web,” kicked off that year’s St. Louis International Film Festival.

“Deep Web” is the inside story of a digital crime saga that caught his attention. With access to the Ulbricht family, he told the story of  Ross William Ulbricht, the 30-year-old entrepreneur who was accused of being “Dread Pirate Roberts” as the creator and operator of the online black market Silk Road. He looked at the thought leaders behind the so-called Deep Web and its future.

A finalist for a distinguished Cinema Eye Honors Award, “Deep Web” was produced and narrated by Keanu Reeves, Winter’s good friend since they portrayed Bill and Ted.

He was also in attendance to present the 1989 cult classic that catapulted him into pop culture history, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” recounting anecdotes about the making of the movie prior to its late-night showing at the Tivoli.

The fest also showed acclaimed 2013 documentary, “Downloaded,” about the rise and fall of Napster and a look at the digital revolution.

“I was fascinated by the online communities that started in the late 1980s. It was clear that this was a major shift in communication. Bitcoin, Silk Road and other anonymous digital sites were the first on a large scale,” he said in 2015.

In 2020, when the fest went virtual, his documentary, “Zappa,” was in the line-up.

His look at the complex and visionary iconoclast Frank Zappa took six years to make, and he received cooperation from the family.

“Getting the family’s support was vital to the project,” he said. “There has never been a definitive biography about him. I am extremely happy to do it. He was a great artist at a turbulent time in history.”

It is available to watch on Hulu and can be rented or purchased on several platforms.

The year “Zappa” came out, during the global coronavirus pandemic, was also the year his very personal documentary, “Showbiz Kids,” premiered on HBO, and the third installment of “Bill and Ted,” “Face the Music” was one of the most anticipated films in 2020.

“That was a very strange year,” he said. “Things I had been working on all popped out at once.”

“Face the Music” shot to no. 1 in U.S.

“It came out at the right time, and a lot of people got to see it. I’m glad it gave fans some fun then,” he said.

Winter said he and Keanu had a great time making the film and won’t shut the door on another one.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “We’re always playing around with ideas on where the story could go, what are the possibilities. I always say never say never.”

Other Career Highlights

His movie career took off with “The Lost Boys” in 1987, then came the juggernaut of Bill & Ted, and they reunited for a sequel in 1991.

His 1993 science fiction-horror-comedy “Freaked,” which he co-wrote and co-directed with his college pal-collaborator Tom Stern, is revered as another cult classic.

Another feature he wrote and directed, “Fever,” a 1998 dark tale starring Henry Thomas and Teri Hatcher, was selected for the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival.

His work on Cartoon Network, where he voiced the Adult Swim character the King Mole Man and on “Robot Chicken,” and MTV’s “The Idiot Box,” a sketch comedy series he developed with Stern, was also highly regarded.

He is a graduate of New York University’s film school. Today, his production company is behind commercials for Ford, Peugeot, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, Nickelodeon and 1800 Tequila.

He’s directed music videos for Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice Cube, Extreme and Helmet.

He was on Broadway in productions of “The King & I” with Yul Brynner, and “Peter Pan” with Sandy Duncan.

With Stern, Winter starred in, co-directed and co-wrote the hit MTV comedy series, “The Idiot Box” and starred in their theatrical co-directing debut, “Freaked,” released by Twentieth Century Fox.

Another documentary was “The Panama Papers,” about the corruption scandal and the journalists who broke the story.

Next up is a cameo role as a cab driver in “Blue’s Big City Adventure,” to be streamed on Paramount Plus on Nov. 18. He’ll be seen in “Absolute Dominion” on Netflix next year, and a film “Destroy All Neighbors” on Shudder.

For the 2015 BND feature: https://www.bnd.com/living/magazine/article42065412.html

Cover Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for AwesomenessTV/AP Images

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 30: Director Alex Winter speaks onstage at the TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 at The Manhattan Center on April 30, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Cinema St. Louis (CSL) is pleased to announce that the Centerpiece Event of the 30th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) — held Nov. 4-21, 2021 — is “American Underdog,” a Kingdom Story Company production distributed by global content leader Lionsgate (LGF.A, LGF.B) and opening in theaters December 25. Kurt and Brenda Warner, who served as executive producers on the film, will attend and participate in a post-screening Q&A.

“American Underdog” tells the inspirational true story of Kurt Warner (played by Zachary Levi), who went from a stock boy at a grocery store to a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame quarterback.

The screening will be held at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8, at the Tivoli Theatre, 6350 Delmar Blvd. Tickets are $50 and go on sale at 9 AM for CSL members and 1 PM for the general public on Friday, Oct. 22, through the CSL website, www.cinemastlouis.org.

St. Louisans need no reminders about Warner’s storied career, which started here with the Rams when he went from essentially unknown backup to starter in 1999 after Trent Green suffered a torn ACL in the preseason. The Rams, of course, won the Super Bowl that season, and Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf” went on an historic three-year offensive spree that produced a second
Super Bowl appearance.

Later, Warner did it again, taking the perennially woebegone Arizona Cardinals — another franchise familiar to locals — to their first Super Bowl.

Kurt Warner as St Louis Rams Quarterback

The film centers on Warner’s unique story and the years of challenges and setbacks that could have derailed his aspirations to become an NFL player. It is only with the support of his wife, Brenda (played by Anna Paquin), and the encouragement of his family, coaches, and teammates that Warner perseveres and finds the strength to show the world the champion that he already is. “American
Underdog” is an uplifting story that demonstrates that anything is possible when you have faith, family, and determination.

Also starring Dennis Quaid, the film is directed by the Erwin brothers from a screenplay by Jon Erwin & David Aaron Cohen and Jon Gunn, based on the book “All Things Possible” by Kurt Warner and Michael Silver. The producers are Kevin Downes, Jon Erwin, Andrew Erwin, Mar Ciardi, and Daryl Lefever.

To protect the safety and health of patrons, SLIFF will require masks and proof of vaccination at this and all in-person screenings. No concessions will be available. Full details on Covid-19 safety measures are on the Cinema St. Louis website: cinemastlouis.org.