Medical transport driver Vic (Chris Galust) is having a hell of a morning. A passenger drones on and on about the state of the country. Another passenger obsessed with Elvis can’t stop singing “Rock Around The Clock.” Vic’s elderly Russian grandfather nearly burns his apartment complex to the ground while cooking chicken. On top of that, a group of fellow Russian residents are late for a funeral. They’re not part of Vic’s scheduled pickups, but what can he do? Everyone in the van! It’s one damn thing after another.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in the wickedly funny, wonderfully chaotic, and ultimately poignant Give Me Liberty, the new film from Milwaukee writer-director Kirill Mikhanovsky and Chicago writer-producer Alice Austen. Fender benders, possible con artists, unhelpful security guards, and a simmering backdrop of riots and protests all figure into the film. Oh, and Tracy (Lauren “Lolo” Spencer), a young woman who requires a motorized wheelchair and who finds herself along for the ride.
Shot in Milwaukee (on film!) with a Milwaukee cast of professionals and non-professionals alike, Give Me Liberty made a splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s easy to see why: it’s a closely observed “day-in-the-life” culture-clash (inspired by Mikhanovsky’s early experiences as a medical transport driver for disabled patrons) that’s funny, affectionate, and frank without being cloying. The acting is superb, the cinematography is alive (a late-film switch to black and white is incredible), and the ending is both devastating and hopeful. There’s even a Bon Iver track, “Holcene,” with its apropos “You’re in Milwaukee, off your feet” line.
Not that the film is a flat-out comedy. It’s easy to see Vic’s van (and his increasingly frantic day) as a metaphor for the United States and the State of the World Today: crowded, multicultural, sometimes messy. At one point a character cries that the elderly Russians are “not even supposed to be” on the van. Couple that with the protests and the riots (once again inspired by Milwaukee), and you have a film that couldn’t be more timely. Modern life may be one damn thing after another, but Give Me Liberty reminds us that it can all come together to create something beautiful.
Give Me Liberty will celebrate its U.S. theatrical premiere at a sold-out screening on Thursday, August 22 at the Oriental Theatre. More screenings are scheduled (some in 35mm), and filmmakers will be attendance for a screening on Saturday, August 24.
Milwaukee Film to Host U.S. Theatrical Premiere of Acclaimed Milwaukee-Made ‘Give Me Liberty’ at Oriental Theatre
Premiere of critically praised film from Sundance, Cannes will open with red-carpet event on Aug. 22
MILWAUKEE, Thursday, July 11, 2019 – Milwaukee Film will host the U.S. theatrical premiere for “Give Me Liberty,” a thoroughly Milwaukee project that previewed to wide acclaim at both the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. The film will open at the Oriental Theatre on Thursday, Aug. 22, at 7 p.m., with a night that Milwaukee Film hopes to be a community celebration of this local achievement.
“Milwaukee Film has supported this project from the beginning, including with financial funding, and we believe this is something our whole city will want to be a part of,” said Jonathan Jackson, CEO and artistic director for Milwaukee Film. “This film has the DNA of Milwaukee at every stage, and it’s a true thrill that the first general audience to see this film will be at the Oriental Theatre.”
The kickoff to its global run, the Aug. 22 opening will include the film’s writer/director Kirill Mikhanovsky and writer/producer Alice Austen. Following the film, Austen and Mikhanovsky will be available for a Q&A.
The film follows Vic, a medical transport driver, through one of the most frenzied days of his life. When a riot breaks out in Milwaukee, he becomes torn trying to assist everyone who needs his help – including a group of elderly Russians going to a funeral and Tracy, a young black woman with ALS. In the midst of events that are driving people apart, ultimately the story is about people coming together around their desire for dignity.
Critical praise has already come from Variety, the New York Times, RogerEbert.com, the Hollywood Reporter and more. Audiences at Sundance and Cannes gave the film an outstanding reception, including a 10-minute standing ovation at Cannes.
In addition to the Milwaukee-based filmmakers, local residents served as featured actors, extras, crew and security, and all filming took place in Milwaukee neighborhoods.
In 2016 the film earned $30,000 in support through the Brico Forward Fund, a jury-led funding program created by Milwaukee Film that awards cash and sponsor-donated production resources to film projects in development. Milwaukee Film also helped the filmmakers leverage philanthropic support with its Fiscal Sponsorship Program, which was created to support local filmmakers and film projects that advance the nonprofit’s organizational mission.