Liberty Kid

Ilya Chaiken (2007 92min, 1.85:1)

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Two young friends struggle to survive after losing their jobs at the Statue of Liberty tourist site due to 9/11. Derrick, courted by Army recruiters, seeks a life outside of their Brooklyn neighborhood, while Tico leads him on a detour into the street-hustling life.

“There’s not a single wrong note in “Liberty Kid,” Ilya Chaiken’s poignant drama. Tender, wise and deceptively low-key… everything about this film feels effortless. ‘Critic’s Pick'”

Chaiken doesn’t just make movies; she lives through them from the inside out… Recalls early Martin Scorsese… A smart little movie with intelligence and heart to spare.

The least explicit yet most affecting film yet to depict New York in the weeks and months after the towers fell.

A powerful drama… Chaiken works with a delicate touch… Potent, thoroughly believable performances… Deeply poignant.

Evident throughout is Chaiken’s ability to patiently build a scene without fanfare or artifice. Smoothly kinetic… Glaringly real.

There may have been two or three dozen American films that struggled to make sense of 9/11 and its aftermath, but none of them have done more with less than “Liberty Kid”… It’s a simple story, engagingly told, wonderfully acted and shot with an eye for the beauty of the Big Apple’s unglamorous outer-borough neighborhoods.

Epic and resonant… to her eternal credit, Chaiken keeps her movie grounded in her characters, allowing Thompson and Saviñon’s true-to-life performances to carry us through…

Chaiken‘s focus drives home the fact that collateral damage comes in many forms… Packs a visceral punch

Sensitively drawn… Strong performances


V.A. Musetto January 11, 2008

THERE is no shortage of films about the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but there is a lack of good ones. The low-budget indie “Liberty Kid,” produced by downtown auteur Larry Fessenden, is one of those that succeeds.

Shot on the mean streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it tracks two buddies, Derrick (Al Thompson) and Tico (Kareem Savinon), who lose their jobs when the Liberty Island concession stand where they toil is shut down.

Derrick has twin kids and aspirations for a better future, but he finds himself drifting into shady dealings dreamed up by Tico. Derrick is finally talked into joining the Army by a recruiter who assures him there is “no way” the US will go to war in Iraq.

Director-writer Ilya Chaiken makes us feel for her characters, whose lives consist of one indignity after another, often at the hands of the NYPD. “Liberty Kid” is a poignant look at what might be called 9/11′s collateral damage.


Ronnie Scheib August 15, 2007

In writer-director Ilya Chaiken’s sophomore outing (after her well-received “Margarita Happy Hour”), almost everything of dramatic import transpires offscreen, starting with the attacks on the World Trade Center and ending with the Iraq war. Doodling in the margins of these two monumental events, Chaiken focuses on the fortunes of two Brooklyn homies who lose their jobs at the Statue of Liberty following 9/11. Winner of the top film prize at the New York Latino fest (leave it to Tribeca to corner every DV-shot 9/11 pic and miss the best one), the breezily indirect “Liberty Kid” could score with indie auds.

Self-styled visionary Derrick (Al Thompson) aspires to more than his dead-end job at the Liberty Island concession stand. He plans to pass his GED and go to college, though how he intends to do so while paying child support for his adorable 3-year-old twins remains hazy. Tico (Kareem Savinon), on the other hand, lives in the moment, savoring weed, women and song.

Chaiken’s not one for straight-ahead exposition, and it takes viewers a while to sort out who’s who in Derrick’s extended Dominican family or Tico’s network of homeboys and girls. From the outset, work gives shape and structure to the two friends’ days as they wake each other up, hop the ferry, load and unload supplies and pick up pretty women with practiced ease, their daily routine presented in smooth-flowing montages before catastrophe strikes.

The first plane hitting the World Trade Center’s north tower provides a rude awakening for Derrick, napping on the ferry on his way to work. But shock and incredulity immediately give way to more prosaic considerations. As Derrick, Tico and friends stride past walls covered with photos of the missing, the drama is not death and destruction, but a three-hour walk home over the Brooklyn Bridge and the shutdown of the Statue of Liberty.

Unable to find another job, Derrick reluctantly joins Tico, who has drifted into small-time drug-dealing, soon becoming accustomed to the good life. But a robbery and a romantic betrayal drive Derrick into the waiting clutches of army recruiters who buttonhole him after a GED exam, their slick “concerned” spiel expertly blending fact and fiction.

Chaiken represents Derrick’s experience in Iraq as a simple fade to black. His return is unseen and unheralded as he wanders, almost shell-shocked, in and out of the story. His silence, sometimes broken by measured speech, manifests deep trauma.

Evident throughout is Chaiken’s ability to patiently build a scene without fanfare or artifice. Her highly evolved feel for dialogue, here the soft-shoe patter of longtime friends, goes a long way toward naturalizing this rather high-concept undertaking, further helped by the seeming casualness of Thompson and Savinon’s sharp thesping.

Tech credits are fine. Eliot Rockett’s crisp HD lensing formulates abstract compositions within glaringly real locations,while smoothly kinetic editing by Chaiken and Dave Rock makes any discontinuity or sudden absence seem that much more jarring.


Ilya Chaiken’s gritty urban drama about two young Brooklyn men who lose their jobs at the Statue of Liberty in the wake of 9/11 and find themselves drawn into a world of crime, poverty, war, and betrayal has an epic sweep rare for such a low-budget production. And although her story occasionally veers into mean-streets clichés, Chaiken’s subtle narrative touch, along with the exceptionally strong performances of leads Al Thompson and Kareem Savinon, gives this one a rare emotional pull.


Maitland McDonagh

Brooklyn-based filmmaker Ilya Chaiken’s follow-up to the sharply observed MARGARITA HAPPY HOUR (2002) is a surprisingly expansive study of two young Latino men who lose their low-level service after 9/11.

Tico (Kareem Savinon) and Derrick (Al Thompson) grew up together in Brooklyn and, in their late teens, both dropped out of high school, live at home and work at the concession stand on the Statue of Liberty ferry. While Tico is content to drift through life, partying, fooling around with girls and protecting his tough-guy reputation, Derrick is studying to take the GED so he can go to college. He’s also struggling to help his overwhelmed mother (Rosa Ramos) and support his twin 3-year-olds, who live with an ex-girlfriend. When the first plane hits the World Trade Center, their supervisor assures his staff that it’s just an accident; when the dust clears, the Statue of Liberty has been closed to visitors and Derrick and Tico are out of work. Nine months later, Derrick is still looking for a decent job and Tico is drifting into small-time drug-dealing; Derrick reluctantly becomes his partner.

The film eventually covers several years in their lives, encompassing small victories, bitter betrayals, family unheavals, imprisonment, marriage and military service. Chaiken keeps the focus tightly on Tico and Derrick throughout: 9/11 and the Iraq War impinge on the film to the exact degree that they irrevocably change the young men’s day-to-day lives — it’s not that Derrick and Tico are thoughtless, only that they don’t have the luxury of thinking too much about the big picture when the small picture is always on the verge of collapsing. Far from trivializing world-changing events like the navel-gazing A BROKEN SOLE (2007), Chaiken’s focus drives home the fact that collateral damage comes in many forms and marginal lives are easily derailed. And though she keeps the Iraq War entirely off screen, Chaiken’s single shot of the smoldering towers — which Derrick watches through a coin-operated viewer — packs a visceral punch.


Nathan Lee

Liberty Kid elevates that woeful genre, the 9/11 movie, by keeping a Wire-worthy ear to the street talk of south Williamsburg and maintaining a shrewd balance of the personal and the political for two full acts. It is, alas, a three-act narrative. No matter: Produced by indie stalwart Larry Fessenden, the sophomore feature from writer-director Ilya Chaiken stages an uncommonly acute, deftly played drama of the New York working class.

Derrick (Al Thompson) and Tico (Kareen Saviñon) find themselves out of work on September 12 when their Liberty Island concession stand is shut down. Wage-slave indignity gives way to a grudging coke operation (and a hilarious batch of business cards offering “Party Favers”), followed by the inevitable rough-and- tumble rivalries, jealousies, seductions, and betrayals. The actors remain superb even as Chaiken triple-underlines every-thing in the bittersweet denouement. Kudos to Kid, nevertheless, for having something worth saying in the first place.

Long Synopsis

“Liberty Kid” is the story of two young friends surviving in the streets of Brooklyn after losing their jobs at the Statue of Liberty tourist site due to 9/11.

Derrick survived his racially divided high school (Blacks vs. Latinos) by passing for both sides. A legal resident alien, born in the Dominican Republic but raised in Brooklyn, Derrick has visions of going to college and getting out of the ghetto. But he’s stifled by low-wage jobs, child support payments, and detours into street life. Courted by Army recruiters, Derrick must negotiate his way out of his dead-end lifestyle.

Hot-headed Tico is Derrick’s best friend and worst adversary, making off with all the girls and ensnaring Derrick in low-grade hustling schemes (from selling drugs to white hipsters to orchestrating fraudulent car accidents) that keep them both trapped in the same place they started. Their volatile friendship is put to the test as they each follow their different paths.

Things turn hopeful for Derrick when he earns his GED, but he discovers his only option for affording school may be to enlist in the Army — just months prior to the US invasion of Iraq.


Director’s Statement

LIBERTY KID is a convergence of very many New York stories. 9-11 affected us all in the most profound ways, but also in the day-to-day manner in which we had to live through those first years. Part of getting through it was connecting with each “What were you doing when…?” story told by your friends, neighbors, even strangers on the subway.

Like most artists in the aftermath of 9/11. I was frustrated by the silencing of voices and disenfranchisement of anti-war movement. I was looking to write a story through which I could explore the ramifications and contradictions of going to war in Iraq. The challenge was to contain those themes in a screenplay that could be realized on a guerrilla-sized budget, if necessary. I began researching PTSD and talking to Iraq War veterans. In the spirit of Hal Ashby’s COMING HOME, I invited some of these real life veterans to speak about their experiences in one of the scenes in the movie.

The character of Derrick was born in an earlier script called “I NY”, an homage to pre-Giuliani NYC and its spiritual and physical transformation to post-9/11 times. Derrick was a peripheral character, but I realized the story of this kid who worked on Liberty Island and had to hustle for cash after the Statue closed down would segue perfectly into the Iraq War theme. Derrick was recruited, and “Liberty Kid” was born.

I also wanted to capture a part of New York City that is getting pushed further and further into the outer boroughs, to depict a neighborhood that still has an identity. The residents and business owners of the Southside Williamsburg area we shot in became part of our cast, crew, and support system, making it possible to realize this environment. Within a year or two, most of the locations you see in this film will be replaced by Starbucks, Foot Locker, etc. absorbed into the new cookie-cutter corporate landscape.

LIBERTY KID was shot with the Panasonic HVX200 camera using P2 memory cards. The combination of the unobtrusive size of this camera and the brilliant flexible eye of DP Eliot Rockett allowed us to capture these NYC lives in their truest light.

My hope is that LIBERTY KID will add to the continuing dialogue about the misused connection between 9/11 and the Iraq war, about immigration, and about the need for the government to care for those drawn into this conflict.


Urged by a couple of buddies to try acting, Al got his first taste of production doing student films for New York University. His first TV job was a guest spot on “100 Centre Street” for famed director Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon), which he earned after leveling Lumet during the audtion. Soon after, he was cast as Danny Glover’s son in the Academy Award nominated film, The Royal Tenenbaums. Al was cast two weeks later in the Warner Brothers teen love story, A Walk To Remember, where he co-starred opposite Shane West and Mandy Moore. Al found himself flying back and forth from New York and North Carolina to shoot the two projects simultaneously. He followed those two movies with the critically acclaimed made for TV movie “A Season on the Brick: The Bobby Knight Story,”


Kareem Savinon was born and raised in Washington Heights, New York. At a young age he would commute each morning by train into the city so he could attend an elementary school that offered him a better education and cultural enrichment. While attending this school, Kareem performed in numerous plays and discoved his passion for acting. He landed his first commercial at the age of 15, for Fao Schwartz, and continued performing until he went to college. He attended the University at Buffalo with hopes of becoming an Attorney and recieved his undergraduate degree in Political Science. After graduation, he realized his passion still led him to acting, so instead of attending law school, he returned to New York City to pursue his dream of becoming an established actor.

Kareem’s ultimate goal is to bring forth change in the entertainment community by presenting a line of work that represents his Latin culture and upbringing, and becoming a new voice in the Latino community.

ILYA CHAIKEN – Writer/Director

LIBERTY KID is the second feature written and directed by Ms. Chaiken, whose acclaimed debut feature MARGARITA HAPPY HOUR premiered at Sundance 2001 and proceeded to such prestigious festivals as the Los Angeles and Toronto before receiving distribution from Wellspring. She returned to Sundance in 2004 with the comedic short “The 100 Lovers of Jesus Reynolds.” Chaiken first received attention for her short films: “The Actress,” and “Match Flick,” and was granted a Statue Award for artistic excellence in film from the Princess Grace Foundation. She studied filmmaking at SUNY Purchase.

ELIOT ROCKETT – Director of Photography

For over fifteen years Eliot has been shooting feature films, comercials, documentaries, and music videos. Along with LIBERTY KID his feature credits include: DIRTY directed by Chris Fisher starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., THE SPECIALS directed by Craig Maizin starring Rob Low, Thomas Hayden Church also AROUND THE FIRE, LATE LAST NIGHT and MY TINY UNIVERSE. Recently he had his first opportunity in television shooting the “Hollywood Brass” episode of CSI. His documentary credits include FAMILY NAME. Shot by Eliot over a three year period for director Macky Alston. FAMILY NAME won the “Freedom of Expression Award” at Sundance as well as the IFP’s “NY Gotham Open Palm Award” for best first feature.


Larry Fessenden is the writer, director and editor of the award-winning art-horror movies HABIT, NO TELLING, and WENDIGO. His most recent film, THE LAST WINTER starring Ron Perlman, Connie Britton and James LE Gros, premiered at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival. As a character actor Fessenden has appeared in numerous films, including Neil Jordan’s forthcoming THE BRAVE ONE, Jarmuch’s BROKEN FLOWERS, Scorsese’s BRINGING OUT THE DEAD , and Bucemi’s ANIMAL FACTORY. Fessenden stars in HABIT, and the Sundance pictures MARGARITA HAPPY HOUR (Ilya Chaiken) and RIVER OF GRASS ( Kelly Reichardt). Since 2003, Fessenden has been a producer on various projects including Ilya Chaiken’s forthcoming LIBERTY KID and Douglas Buck’s remake of DePalma’s SISTERS. Under his low budget horror banner ScareFlix, he has produced Ti West’s THE ROOST, and TRIGGER MAN, and James Felix McKenny’s THE OFF SEASON and AUTOMATONS. The Scareflix Fall 2006 slate includes Graham Reznick’s I CAN SEE YOU and Glenn McQuaid’s I SELL THE DEAD. Fessenden has operated the production company Glass Eye Pix since 1985, with the mission of supporting individual voices in the arts.

ROGER E. KASS – Producer

Roger E. Kass is an independent movie and television producer’s representative and entertainment lawyer. He has been in the motion picture business for more than fifteen years, having started in the industry as legal counsel to both Miramax and New Line Cinema in the early 1990’s. Kass has been credited on more than three dozen independent films and in the course of his legal career has represented Ed PRessman, Alex Gibney, Good Machine, Hal Hartley, Nisha Ganatra, Nick Gomez, David Rabe, David Gordon Green, and many others. Mr. Kass is an Executive Producer of David Cronenberg’s Oscar and Golden Globe nominee, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Kass is also a Producer of EDMOND, based on David Mamet’s play and screenplay starring William H. Macy and Julia Stiles; Co-Executive Producer of Nisha Ganatra’s award winning CHUTNEY POPCORN and Consulting Producer on EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS: HOW SEX, DRUGS AND ROCK ‘N ROLL GENERATION SAVED HOLLYWOOD, based on Peter Biskind’s bestseller.

As a producer’s representative, Kass handled worldwide sales of Sundance 2005 Grand Jury Prize winner 40 SHADES OF BLUE, Sundance Special Jury Prize winner TV JUNKIE, 2006 Sundance Special Jury Prize winner IN BETWEEN DAYS, THE ROOST, THE EDUCATION OF SHELBY KNOX, ROMANTICO and UNKNOWN WHITE MALE, among many others. Kass’s current producing slate includes BUTTON MAN: THE KILLING MAN, in development at DreamWorks and Ti West’s, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. Kass is a longtime member of the Board of Directors of The Atlantic Theater Company in New York, founded by David Mamet and William H. Macy in 1985.

MIKE S. RYAN – Producer

Mike began working in the New York film industry as a location manager like Ang Lee, Todd Haynes, Roland Emmerich, Jim Jarmusch and many others. He began producing in 2003 for Todd Solondz’s PALINDROMES. His next film, 40 SHADES OF BLUE (by Ira Sachs, starring Rip Tom) won Best Film at Sundance 2005. Amy Adams won Best Actress at the same festival for Phil Morrison’s JUNEBUG; Amy was subsequently nominated for Academy Award, making JUNEBUG the lowest-budget feature ever to be nominated. Ryan recently produced Hal Harley’s FAYE GRIM, served as Production Manager on Tamara Jenkins’ THE SAVAGES, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, and executive produced OLD JOY by Kelly Reichardt (winner: Rotterdam Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival.) Upcoming projects include Todd Solondz’s next feature and the Iggy Pop biopic THE PASSENGER.