Lauren 'Lolo' Spencer and Chris Galust in "Give Me Liberty" (2019)

Lauren 'Lolo' Spencer and Chris Galust in Give Me Liberty (2019)

Medical transport driver Vic is late, but it’s not his fault. Roads are closed for a protest, and no one else can shuttle his Russian grandfather and émigré friends to a funeral. The new route uproots his scheduled clients, particularly Tracy, a vibrant young woman with ALS. As the day goes from hectic to off-the-rails, their collective ride becomes a hilarious, compassionate, and intersectional portrait of American dreams and disenchantment.

Russian-born director Kirill Mikhanovsky says that one of his first jobs in America was to drive a medical transport van in the ‘90s. “I thought about making a movie back in 2006. Then I was working with Alice Austen on another script. The city of Milwaukee was very inspiring and so I thought of making a smaller film in Milwaukee. I proposed it to Alice.”

Mikhanovsky adds that his experience as a medical transport driver produced a lot of hilarious, touching, wonderful, moving stories. “And that was the starting point. From there, a script was born, taking place over the course of, I believe, seven to eight days, with a wild slew of hilarious characters, combining comedy and investigation – almost like a detective story and love story and road movie with the main character driving the van, etc. – but some revisions later it became a day-in-the-life of this character Vic.”

The movie has some professional actors in the mix, but the director also cast many non-professionals. “Because the central character was a driver in Milwaukee who would be driving around a number of people with disabilities or people from just different walks of life, we just didn’t imagine at the time how we would gather the right professional talent from all over the nation.”

“We wanted to work with people who were not playing people with disabilities. We wanted to work with people who actually have disabilities because we wanted to honor that side of life in this project in a way that was authentic.”

Give Me Liberty deals with the concept of the American Dream. What is the American Dream? “To me,” says Mikhanovsky, “the American Dream is not something that is here waiting for you. It is something that people who come to America must bring with them. So if you come here and say the American Dream is gone, well, then you didn’t bring it with you.”

Mikhanovsky is a Russian immigrant whose family landed in Milwaukee after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Several of the actors are members of Milwaukee’s Russian immigrant community; others are regulars at the city’s Eisenhower Center, a vocational training program for people with disabilities.