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For Filmmaking Pair Behind ‘Liberty,’ St. Louis Premiere Is A Long-Hoped-For Moment

Actress Natasha Coppola-Shalom stars in the new film "Liberty." Coppola-Shalom is the niece of Nicolas Cage.
Chris Lawing
Mercury Films
Actress Natasha Coppola-Shalom stars in the new film "Liberty."

When “Liberty” premieres at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, it will mark the fruition of a dream nearly three decades in the making. Chris Lawing and his wife, Angie Clerc Lawing, met in film school 27 years ago, and they shared the hope of one day working on a creative project together.

Their short film tells the story of an intrepid reporter who uncovers corruption and intrigue at a local meatpacking plant in small-town Kansas.

“I'm a grandson of farmers, and I went to school in a small town, so I do have a connection, and affinity, and also a fascination of small towns — and certainly a love for Kansas,” Lawing said. “I really wanted to try and capture what it was like — not the cartoonish element of it but [something] more realistic, so that the region, the town itself, is a character.”

In addition to showing love for small-town America, Lawing aimed to shed light on the exploitation of migrant workers by meatpacking companies, as well as the effect of worksite raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“One of the things that's just really horrible about these ICE raids is the people that are punished are the workers, and not the companies that are hiring the illegal workers. We're criminalizing the workers and not the people profiting off of them,” Lawing said.

Chris Lawing and Angie Clerc Lawing join St. Louis on the Air

“I had looked at this idea of this confluence of characters and this confluence of immigrants and cultures in rural America, and the challenges around that, as well as the power that corporate America has over rural America. So that really festered in my head for a while, and then somehow, I started peeling that apart and came up with ‘Liberty.’”

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, guest host Emily Woodbury talked with the Lawings about their new film and what it was like to work alongside each other, Hollywood actors and their daughter, who worked as the film’s camera assistant.

The pair hopes to one day create a feature-length version of the story.

“The goal of this project, of ‘Liberty,’ was a feature. We wrote it as a feature-length film and were in the process of going through the development funds, but we decided that we needed to shape the vision of the film,” Lawing said. “So that's where the short film really came out, was pulling together a team to collaborate, to shape the vision, so that can really dictate what the feature is going to be like.”

Related Event
What: St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase
When: Friday through Sunday
Where: Online at cinemastlouis.org

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.