MILWAUKEE — A movie made in Milwaukee that premiered to critical acclaim at the Sundance and Cannes Film Festival is making its U.S. theatrical release at Milwaukee Film’s Oriental Theatre this weekend.
The sellout first showing was a red carpet affair, taking place Thursday night. Showings for “Give Me Liberty” continue locally into next week and will have an important impact on the future success of the movie.
“U.S. theaters across the country are looking to opening numbers for the first weekend in theaters to determine whether or not to program our movie. So, it's a big one,” said Alice Austen.
She produced the film and wrote it along with Kirill Mikhanovsky, the director. Both call Milwaukee home and worked hard to make sure the film is a product of the city.
“We generated, shot and cast almost the entire movie from Milwaukee. So, it's truly a watershed moment for this city in terms of feature films,” Austen said.
The film has a documentary feel, though it’s a dramatic comedy about a young guy who drives a transport van for people with disabilities. In addition to making his usual runs, he decides to help his Russian grandfather get a bunch of friends to a funeral.
Everyone in the film portraying a character with a disability is actually a person who is disabled in real life. Most are locals, who aren’t actors at all.
While the insistence on authenticity was a core value for the filmmakers, it also presented challenges to getting the film created and shown in a highly competitive industry.
“If we had cast a very well-known white actress pretending to have a disability in our lead role, we would have had distribution a lot faster,” Austen said.
That wasn’t the only hurdle to success. Austen said as they were pitching the idea, trying to get this movie made, most industry insiders weren’t interested in Milwaukee.
"When we were really struggling to raise the financing, and we were offered opportunities to take it to L.A., cast it with movie stars, make the film there,” Austen said. “It would not have been this film. And I believe the film we made is the one that really was meant to be.”
It’s already showing overseas, and Austen said the exposure will be great for our city.
“We generated, shot and cast almost the entire movie from Milwaukee. So, it's truly a watershed moment for this city in terms of feature films.” — producer Alice Austen
“People were fascinated by Milwaukee. They didn't know anything about Milwaukee. They were sort of locked into a different iteration like 'Laverne & Shirley' and, ‘Isn't that where people bowl and drink beer?’” she joked.
She said Milwaukee is much more than that.
Showtimes and ticket information are available here.