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Friday, November 28, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Overcast
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Wisconsin filmmaker makes gun-free gangster movie Secret Life, Secret Death
A woman in the underworld
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The film cost just $4,500 to make.
The film cost just $4,500 to make.

While the budget for even the most humble Hollywood movie runs into millions, an area artist has just completed her first feature film for $4,500.

That includes post-production. The actual shooting cost was $1,700. The Madison premiere of the 84-minute film is at the Barrymore Theatre on May 2.

Secret Life, Secret Death is a very personal film for its producer/director/writer, Genevieve Davis, a professional artist who lives near North Freedom. The Milwaukee native attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The screenplay is based on what she discovered about her grandmother's secret past in 1920s gangland Chicago.

"I put three years of my life into it, and there were 100 volunteers who helped me make it," says Davis. "In Wisconsin you can do that. People are really happy to help you make a movie here."

The film stars Madison-based model and cabaret performer Kjersti Beth. It's set in Chicago and northern Wisconsin. Shoots were at locations including Baraboo, Lake Delton and Milwaukee.

Many of the scenes rely on "green screen" shots created at Madison TV access channel WYOU, placing performers against historical photographs. Besides saving a great deal of money, Davis says that the technique reflects her background as a visual artist.

"There are difficult moments in her life where I try to portray the character's interior feelings, rather than what it looks like from the outside," she says.

The film features adult themes, but, unusual for a gangster saga, there are no guns.

"A lot of gangster films are glorifying the violence," says Davis. "I'm trying to show what it's really like to be a woman in the underworld of crime."

The film premiered last week in Baraboo. After Madison, Davis takes it on the road to Milwaukee and Chicago, and she's in talks for screenings in Mobile and New Orleans. "I'm also going to take it to Europe this fall," she adds.

Secret Life, Secret Death will be screened at the Barrymore at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2. The director and actors will participate in a talk-back afterward.

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