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.
“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.