Courtesy of Wesley Ng

Wednesday: “The Riverside Dust Bowl” by Joshua Wagonblast

I saw that the Riverside Plaza was empty as soon as I turned the corner, as if the Dust Bowl had just ended and people were afraid to exit their homes. The only thing missing was that familiar cliché of cricket noises filling the background. Physically going out to the movies has become less popular, but where were all the film lovers? I was excited to attend the Riverside International Film Festival on Wednesday, April 18, but it was a surprise to witness such a diminutive turnout by the Riverside community––especially from UCR students who are lucky enough to attend the function for free.

Adonis” was the first film I saw, and it was 10 minutes too long. The overly-cartoony and drearily written short was excruciating to watch as a man and his dog saunter around in front of a green screen trying to pick up various women. “Adonis” was even duller than the director who spoke afterwards, but the whole hodgepodge of comedic shorts was not entirely a bust. “Leo’s Lover(s)” was one notable film that outshined the rest. The film wasn’t outrageously funny, but was instead witty with an entertainingly intelligent bite. Writer, director and actor Alan Weischedel has a knack for clever comedy and is almost as neurotic in person as he was on screen. Hopefully, he’ll be able to keep his distance from becoming too much like Woody Allen.

The real delight of the whole event was “Of Gods and Men,” a French film that sucked me in from the first minute. Although simplistically styled and shot, the monastic modality had an existential purpose that worked well with the religious themes and eight monks who were the center of the picture. The film did not include much action and was only violent when necessary, since the real point of the film was to pull audiences into the mental struggle the monks experience throughout. Every moment was just as enticing as the next. One wonders what the true point of altruism and dedication to God really is during a time of Algerian civil unrest. All I can say is that it was a very powerful movie that depicted the factual incident in a delicate, but subtly fierce manner.

There were many prominent films at the film festival, but “Of Gods and Men” is reason enough for me to recommend attending the event. For anyone who has their doubts about going, then just know that you may be missing out on a movie that could be a worthwhile, thought-provoking and hard-hitting experience.

Thursday: “Please Silence Your Cellphones” by Sean Frede

On Thursday, April 19, the Riverside International Film Festival hosted two showings of dramatic shorts by up-and-coming directors. Even though the faint echo of explosions could be heard from the latest G.I. Joe IMAX sensation next door, the film festival entertained audiences with some very moving films, all of which didn’t need 3D gimmicks to get their point across.

The first showing started at 1 p.m. with “Zane,” a student drama directed by Len Chi. It’s the story of a man growing up in Berkeley who is trapped by the pressures of seeking acceptance from gangs. While the lead actor did a wonderful job displaying raw emotion after he makes wrong decisions, the story lacked originality. It was that same stereotypical story of an inner city man struggling to get out of the ghetto.

The second film of the day was “Nora,” directed by Michael Peer. This 13-minute movie spanned the entire lifetime of a woman suffering from abusive relationships. The superb editing kept the story jumping non-linearly from childhood to adulthood. I just wish there would have been a stronger script because the dialogue was predictable.

The second showing began with “Ojalá,” directed by Ryan Velasquez, which was by far my favorite film of the day. In 21 minutes this film captured 25 years of a mother’s life, from growing up in Guatemala with aspirations of being a singer to being a single immigrant mother in L.A. working as a maid. The cinematography and framing was well balanced and very clean. The dialogue felt true and the tension between a mother and daughter’s struggling relationship moved the viewer. I am looking forward to what this director will do next.

The next three movies, “Towing,” “The Favorite” and “A Perfect Day,” were all plagued with very on-the-nose and cliché dialogue that made it difficult for me to even get interested in the stories at all.

The final movie was “Worlds We Created.” Directed by Nicholas Santos, the short was very original and refreshing. With almost no dialogue, the story explored what it means to be a young boy and the difficulties of losing imagination and becoming trapped in the real world. The editing, lighting and soundtrack really propelled this move above and beyond.

The second day of the film festival was an overall success and led me to wonder why so many of us think CGI explosions are needed to arrest our attention, especially when unique and real stories exist right under our noses––as long as we look hard enough.

Friday: “Gala”

Courtesy of Wesley Ng
Courtesy of Wesley Ng

Day 3 marked another long day of short films, including “The Brother,” “A Cat in Paris” and “Flatland.” The day concluded at the Culver Center with the festival’s annual gala, where actor Kevin Sorbo was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Acting.

Saturday: “A Pleasant Surprise” by Matthew Guerrero

The Riverside International Film Festival offered a unique opportunity to watch sometimes great, sometimes terrible movies and to spend some time meeting directors. On the docket for Saturday night: “The Favorite,” “Hecho En China” and “Drought.” The movies lacked superb acting and careful attention to detail—some of the subtitles were spelled incorrectly—but the viewing experience was well worth my time. The films offered an organic look into real actors and a delightful respite from heavily saturated CGI and special effects scenes.

The festival primarily consisted of documentaries. Actors and directors quite often made films for the sole purpose of offering critical insight into controversial and sometimes unheard of issues in the world today, including tough issues like corruption in foreign governments and the age of technology. “Hecho En China” was a great example of a film attacking these issues. The comedy detailed the travels of Marco and his stock boy from Tijuana to Monterey in order for Marco to meet his lover from his teenage years. The film confronts the popular label “Made in China” and contributes some interesting talking points to the global conversation. The acting was sub par throughout the film, but again, it felt organic and some of the comedy was actually more humorous than what some big time films have offered this year.

“The Favorite” documented the rocky relationship between a mother and daughter. It tackled the trivial pursuits of adults who ignore their children. In the film, a mother loves her dog more than her daughter, making her daughter jealous. The acting was worse than “Hecho En China,” but did provide a learning experience for the viewer.

“Drought” was a powerful documentary about a migration from a small town in Northern Mexico to find water. The documentary is the most decorated film I had a chance to view, and was primarily about bringing together people under pressure and the ineptitude of a small town.

Overall, the festival was a fantastic opportunity to view some films unaltered by expensive Photoshop. The films emphasized controversial issues rather than motorcycle chases and explosions. I recommend the festival to any avid movie watcher entirely for the chance to experience a new perspective on what movies should be––and to gain a new appreciation for how difficult it is to make a quality movie.

The Riverside International Film Festival continued on Sunday, April 21, and concluded with an award ceremony recognizing the best films of the weekend.