Ever been to Antarctica? Maybe not, but if you find yourself there, make note of a peak known as Mount Liptak. When Milwaukee filmmaker Ryan Allsop found out that that very mountain is named after his uncle, Navy veteran Lester Liptak, - he knew he had a story to share.
"When I heard the final story about how he had a mountain named after him on Antarctica, being a filmmaker and one who tells a lot of stories and loves writing - it just clicked," says Allsop. "It was just the final thing, 'this is a movie right here, this is incredible.'"
Before Lester Liptak's Navy career lead him to the position of crew chief on exploratory missions in Antarctica, he began his career by enlisting at the age of 15 during World War II.
Allsop's short film, Mount Liptak, is a glimpse into what circumstances led his uncle to drop out of school and become the sole provider for his family, through military service.
While Liptak's story is unique, he was one of an estimated 200,000 underage soldiers in the war. Underage enlistment was not an easy thing to accomplish, however Allsop explains that it was more common than he realized. From teachers helping students enlist, to forging baptismal certificates as his uncle did - going into the armed services provided much needed stability for many families.
"It all seemed that people almost looked the other way because times were so tough that there weren't many other options," Allsop says. "Kids had to provide for their family and had to help in any way possible."
Fueled by his passion for the story, Allsop wrote the script and wrapped production within just six months after first learning about Mt. Liptak during a family Christmas gathering. Since the short film is set in the 1940s, having authentic sets was extremely important to Allsop.
They planes were crucial to Mount Liptak, especially since Lester Liptak originally wanted to become a Navy pilot. Allsop says that thanks to personal connections and the generosity of the Commemorative Air Force Wing of Wisconsin, five vintage World War II era planes were used for filming.
"It just so happened that one of the businesses on the Waukesha County Airport had a World War II Jeep with a turret," Allsop adds. "So it was a lot of just luck and the universe telling us here's a bunch of fun things to help really sell the aspect of the film being in the 1940s."
The entire film was shot and produced in the greater Milwaukee area, including the Liptak house scenes on Trimborn Farm in Greendale and a cemetery and old metal factory near Miller Park.
"It was a lot of searching all around Milwaukee," Allsop recalls. "Because that was the biggest thing about shooting this is having the sets look real, having the locations look real, having everything be authentic."
Allsop says Mount Liptak will be submitted and shown in as many film festivals as possible in the coming months. His larger goal is to use his uncle's story as a springboard for other families to share similar experiences. Whether more short films can be made or if he can make Lester Liptak's life into a feature, Allsop says that telling these lesser known stories is crucial.
"Lester's story is one of thousands. This is just a single thread of a tapestry of so many stories of people that have enlisted underage. I wanted to use his story to tell a much broader story," he says.
Lester Liptak currently lives in Florida, and Allsop says that after so many interviews with his uncle and countless hours of research, the final product made Liptak proud.
"If there was one critic out there, I wanted him to be happy and proud of it," he says. "I didn't want to have the film portray him in a light that wasn't accurate. So I showed it to him, and he said he cried throughout the film and was very honored. I feel incredibly honored to have him as an uncle and that I'm able to tell his story."