Aging Artist With Complicated Past Is Profiled in New Film

The public TV doc 'Almost There' starts out uplifting — then the unexpected happens

Eighty-two-year-old artist Peter Anton beckons to people walking by his booth at the Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind.

“I do portraits here!” he says. “Pretty please, come here?”

Anton soon points out two filmmakers who are taking photographs and asking him about some of his creations. They are going to tell the story of his life, he says. It is what he has been waiting for all these years.

Almost There, a documentary named after the 12-volume scrapbook autobiography that Anton has assembled, is the result of a years-long effort by filmmakers Aaron Wickenden and Dan Rybicky. It is currently airing on select public television stations nationwide, and it’s available via live streaming on PBS.org through Aug. 5.

You can also watch the film from this page, below.

Artist as Project

It is clear early on in the 93-minute documentary that Anton is no typical artist, if there is such a thing. And the depth of turmoil that grips his life becomes obvious the minute the filmmakers visit his home in East Chicago, Ind.

Anton, who has lived there since his childhood, spends most of his time in the squalid basement — a jam-packed, mold-infested space so putrid that Wickenden and Rybicky are forced to return wearing masks.

The two decide to take on Anton as a worthy “project,” as Rybicky says in one point of the film. They cannot get his book published, as he wanted. And they cannot solve his poverty, his health issues or his fight with city housing inspectors. But maybe they could get his artwork featured in a museum exhibit.

“We could use our skills to put a frame around the chaos that was Peter’s life,” Rybicky says.

Success, and a Setback

They make it happen: Anton becomes the talk of the town; he’s featured in local media and even scores a profile in the Chicago Tribune.

But it’s during the exhibit that a local editor finds out something the filmmakers didn’t know about Anton’s past. Watch the film to find out more about this complicated man and his compelling story.

By Emily Gurnon
Emily Gurnon is the former Senior Content Editor covering health and caregiving for Next Avenue. She previously spent 20 years as a newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area and St. Paul.@EmilyGurnon
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