‘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 
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