How a Milwaukee-Made Film Is Getting International Attention

You can see “Give Me Liberty” at its U.S. theatrical debut at the Oriental Theater.

What does it take to make a film in a city not necessarily known for filmmaking? For Alice Austen and Kirill Mikhanovsky, it took a lot of patience, money and perseverance.

Their Milwaukee-made feature film “Give Me Liberty,” had a few early supporters like the Brico Fund and Milwaukee Film, but had a hard time catching the attention of other investors, some who had never even heard of Milwaukee. Coupled with the fact that there are no available tax incentives for film, Austen and Mikhanovsky had an ambitious goal to get people to acknowledge film as a business just like any other.

They were set on making a film about their hometown and showing a portrait of contemporary Milwaukee. Austen and Mikhanovsky started with a Kickstarter fundraising campaign four and a half years ago and even continued to assemble the $1 million budget after they began shooting in 2018. They had an incredibly accelerated postproduction schedule to premiere the film at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019. It was only the fourth feature film to premier at Cannes after Sundance. And over the past eight months, the film has been shown at festivals all over the world, garnering significant acclaim. Next week, it makes its way back to Milwaukee for the U.S. theatrical debut at the Oriental Theater.

Courtesy of Music Box Films.

“Give Me Liberty” is a dark comedy that follows the day of a Russian-American medical van driver. It focuses on marginalized people and the moments that bring them together. The cast was made up of several non-actors and local talent to make the film more authentic. Filmed mostly in the winter on Milwaukee’s Northwest and East Side, several scenes take place at the Eisenhower Center, a vocational training and employment services center.

“Milwaukee is a quintessentially American city,” says Austen. “It’s the heart of the American dream – a city has reinvented itself. Where factories closed, it has figured out how to get people back to work.”

The two Milwaukee screenings next week are hugely important – “It will serve as a litmus test for if there is a viable film industry here and theaters around the country will look at numbers to decide on screening the film,” says Austen.

She is most looking forward to bringing people from all parts of the city together Thursday night for the screening. The Aug. 22 film premiere is sold out, but there are still tickets are available for the Saturday, Aug. 24 showing at 7 p.m. featuring a Q&A with Austen and Mikhanovsky. Buy tickets here before they sell out. 

After Milwaukee, the film heads to audiences in New York and around the nation. This is the first feature film made in Milwaukee that has gotten U.S and International distribution and played two of the largest film festivals in the world.

Austen and Mikhanovsky’s production company – also called Give Me Liberty – plans to make more movies in Milwaukee. In fact, they are hoping this feature film helps launch the city as a filmmaking center.

See the official trailer for “Give Me Liberty” below or click here.



Jenna Kashou is a writer, storyteller and journalist specializing in lifestyle and culture feature writing for print and web. She is a frequent contributor to Milwaukee Magazine, MKE Lifestyle Magazine, The Business Journal and more. She was chosen as the fifth writer in residence at the historic Pfister Hotel where she wrote about and photographed guests and events. A Milwaukee native, Kashou has lived abroad and visited far-flung locales like Greece, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina. She has always had an enormous sense of pride for her hometown and spreads this Milwaukee love everywhere she goes.