‘Give Me Liberty’ premieres in Milwaukee with UWM connections

A new feature film with UWM connections aims to put Milwaukee on the filmmaking map.

The American theatrical premiere of “Give Me Liberty” will take place Aug. 22 at a sold-out Oriental Theatre. The film, created by Kirill Mikhanovsky and Alice Austen, follows 24 hours in the life of Vic, a Russian immigrant and medical transport driver in Milwaukee. Dodging streets blocked by protests while trying to transport a client with ALS to her job, Vic is also blackmailed into driving his grandfather’s friends to a funeral.

Kirill Mikhanovsky

“At some point, this very motley crew of people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, races, ages, different physical conditions, end up on the same van. That’s when all hell breaks loose,” said Mikhanovsky, who directed and co-wrote the film.

Mikhanovsky is a UWM alum who graduated in 1998 with a triple major in linguistics, Russian and film. His co-writer Austen, a Chicago playwright, has held adjunct teaching positions in UWM’s theater program. Each has a love for Milwaukee that shines through in each scene as Vic drives down familiar streets: The film cast is made almost entirely of actors hired in Milwaukee, and it was shot within the city, despite Wisconsin’s lack of financial incentives for filmmakers.

That’s why it’s critical that the film does well during its first limited showing in America (distributed by Music Box Films, based in Chicago). If Mikhanvosky and Austen prove that Milwaukee and Wisconsin can be successful settings for movies, it may convince other productions to shoot in the city as well.

“Give Me Liberty” was shot in Milwaukee with a mostly local cast, many of whom had not acting onscreen previously.

They may be helped by the film’s reputation. “Give Me Liberty” was lauded at the Sundance Film Festival and became just the fourth film ever to subsequently premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in France, which as a rule does not show films that were presented at other festivals. The film has been acquired by 30-plus countries for distribution, including France and Russia where it has received critical and audience acclaim on 84 and 100 screens, respectively. In the U.S., “Give Me Liberty” has received glowing reviews from The New York Times, Hollywood Reporter and other outlets.

“We’re at a juncture where Milwaukee is very important,” Austen said. “Milwaukee is sort of a small model of America, and this film is ultimately about the American Dream and how the American Dream is still alive.”

Visit the Milwaukee Film website for a list of showtimes.

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