'Give Me Liberty' Filmmakers Hope Sundance Premiere Will Be 'A Catalyst' For Filmmaking In Milwaukee

Aug 19, 2019

Editor's note: This piece was originally published on Jan. 25, 2019.

We last spoke with writer and producer Alice Austen and filmmaker Kirill Mikhanovsky in 2014 when they were just beginning their Kickstarter campaign for the Milwaukee inspired and made feature film, Give Me Liberty.

READ: Film in Progress Based on Life of Russian-Jewish Immigrant in Milwaukee

The film is a “day in the life” story that follows Vic, a young Russian American who drives a handicapped transport in the city and shares an apartment with his grandfather. The story turns out to be anything but ordinary as the characters encounter literal and figurative road blocks — from protests to transporting elderly Russians to a funeral. Austen and Mikhanovsky wanted their dark comedy to be raw, authentic, reflective of Milwaukee, and a meditation on the American dream. And the film itself has become the realization of a dream — it’s playing at the Sundance Film Festival through this weekend.

However, the film almost didn’t happen because of what the filmmakers called “a series of calamities”. Problems, like losing partners and funding, nearly derailed the project.

"Two years into the process, we began to feel a little bit foolish, because we still were not able to make the film because very few people believed in Milwaukee as a place to make a great movie," says Mikhanovsky. "There are a number of people with great vision for the city through cinema because we believe that cultural life can be boosted through the budding film industry. It's obviously a long term process, but we always saw ourselves and the film as a catalyst."

Even though the process of trying to make Give Me Liberty took far longer than intended, Austen says the film is inadvertently even more timely now than it would have been had they finished on their original schedule.

"We wrote this story based on the city of Milwaukee, these characters in it, some experiences Kirill actually had when he came here ... but ultimately the film is political insofar as it brings people together in a very divisive time and it's about our common humanity," she says.

Austen and Mikhanovsky joined Lake Effect’s Audrey Nowakowski in the studio before they left for Sundance to talk about Give Me Liberty: