Riverside is a proud city that has participated in the cultural and economic changes within California through several milestones. From helping build California’s then-miniscule citrus industry in the early 1900s to having Tomas Rivera, the first Hispanic UC chancellor, Riverside has never been afraid to be inclusive and outgoing.
The Riverside International Film Festival is taking place this year at the Box Theater in Riverside. The film festival in its entirety will occur from April 3 to April 12, but presented here is a powerful snapshot of the types of movies that are playing, and general information on a few. But more importantly, the films’ contributions to Riverside’s artistic and cultural merit — on how Riverside is always a bedrock for enthusiastic and optimistic outsiders with a vision — will certainly be shown and felt.
One of the earlier films to be shown was “Blue Eyed Boy,” an Iranian film by Amir Masoud Soheili. Only 18 minutes long, it’s about a young boy who can only see the world in blue. Through some mishap, the boy accidentally kills livestock, causing his family to consult a shaman to cure his color blindness. The film is an exploration of difference and belonging, and the struggle to adjust to a society with a handicap.
“Dear Friends/Para Los Amigos” is an Argentine film by Paulina Dana that narrates the story of six friends who congregate at a cemetery for a seemingly pointless day of relaxing. The film contrasts the exuberance of the teens and their relationships and ideas with the stark coldness of the cemetery. However, at the end of the film, the meeting at the cemetery comes into focus: They are visiting the grave of a deceased friend.
Jade Bryan’s “The Shattered Mind” is the longest of the three short films, tells the story of Zhane Ryan, a deaf girl who suffers from a weird illness and anxiety. The illness has a connection to her mysterious past, which her mother goes to great lengths to hide. The film follows her attempts to uncover this mysterious past at all costs. Bryan gave an interview afterward talking about the struggles of being a deaf director, and how she utilized crowdfunding to fund the film.
The last film to premiere Friday evening was “Found On South Street.” In the film, Arthur Hodges Jr. (Austin Cary) plays a deaf man who invents a remarkable earpiece for himself and others, but the success comes with terrible costs. In the post-movie Q-and-A, Cary, himself deaf, explained how the protagonist’s struggle with his identity within the deaf community and culture was a cleansing process for his own questions and insecurities. Director Jonathan Blair spoke about how his mother’s deafness and the challenge of growing up with that inspired him to create “Found On South Street.” “I think it’s great that there’s more acceptance and understanding for the deaf community,” he said. “People shouldn’t be defined simply by their handicap.”
Tim Bartell’s independent feature film “Dirty Beautiful” stars a young aspiring writer named David who can’t seem to buckle down and truly perfect his craft, and a troubled, homeless girl named Kat he meets along the way. David agrees to let her move into his small apartment as the two attempt to have a romantic relationship. However, Kat is much too wild for David’s lifestyle. The two endure months of crazy, liquor-filled nights and loving but hating each other’s guts.
During a Q-and-A after the film, Bartell revealed that Kat was inspired by a hitchhiker that he picked up along the road a few years ago who appeared to be a drifter. “She had stayed in my mind and I thought there might be a really good story there,” he explained. The character David was loosely based off of himself, a then-lonely writer whose need for love may have driven him to consider something impulsive like taking a hitchhiker home.
The film contained two alternate endings: one that sees David moving on from Kat and changing his life for the better and a second that shows him taking her back after an explosive argument that resulted in her leaving him. “The first ending does feel more conventional. We’d like to believe that we learn, we grow and never make those same mistakes but we do tend to fall back into those mistakes,” he said. The film did an excellent job of embodying the imperfections of human nature and our need for just a little taste of love and physical connection, no matter the consequences.
Up next was a documentary directed by Keun-Pyo Park entitled, Eric Barr’s “A Piece of My Mind.” The film shows Barr’s difficult recovery after a near-death experience that resulted in a one-man show starring the then-UCR theater professor. Park also works at UCR teaching film production in the department of theatre, film and digital production. An impressive display of courage and determination, Barr adamantly explained that he wouldn’t let the stroke that nearly killed him stop him from living his life to the fullest. Throughout the film, we were introduced to friends and family members who helped Barr make a speedy recovery and only spoke of him in the highest regard.
The final film for Saturday, “American Real: The Forrest Lucas Story” is a documentary that portrays Forrest Lucas’ ascent to a luxurious life. If any film could embody the age-old rags-to-riches tale, it’d be this one. It tells Lucas’ life story, first recounting his rough childhood. “My whole family, including me and my three younger sisters, all lived in a ‘shack,’” he explained. His father struggled with alcoholism and only came home “when he sobered up for a day.” Lucas worked as a truck driver for much of his life until he founded Lucas Oil Products at age 47, after inventing an oil additive to help big rigs not overheat. His multimillion dollar company now sells more than 100 oils, additives and greases. Having endured unimaginative pain and poverty in childhood, Lucas’ success story is one that deserved to be listened to.