Interview with Santiago Rizzo about his film, Quest: The Truth Always Rises

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Image courtesy of Santiago Rizzo

“There’s no such thing as a bad kid. Only a bad situation.” — Tim Moellering

What happens when a film aims to serve up more than just blockbuster popcorn-eating entertainment?

Well, check out this film about a middle school kid who finds solace in his graffiti art to escape from an abusive stepdad, and a mom in denial. This boy named Mills (maturely played by Gregory Kasyan) seems doomed to be homeless, and another statistic on the streets. Yet, thankfully, a savior and teacher enters his life named Tim (Dash Mihok) who offers him love and support and a way to overcome his dreaded destiny.

This is actually producer, director, and writer, Santiago Rizzo’s true story and so the giveaway is that it has a happy ending.

He co-wrote the first drafts of the film with his teacher and mentor, Tim Moellering. Tim was a teacher at Berkeley Unified School District for 28 years. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2011 from pancreatic cancer and well before the film was completed.

But even a film made from the heart and with good intentions gets pre-judged. Perhaps because it strikes new ground. On the feedback Santiago has gotten so far, he says, “Maybe they just see it’s like a troubled boy and a teacher and they’ve seen that story before, so it’s not interesting. But you have to watch the whole movie to realize that’s not really what the movie is about.”

Santiago purposely cast Greg Kasyan as a cute kid to play Mills. Greg was the very best option for the production because he had humanity and heart. He’s also an excellent actor who leads the film with complete credibility. Some audiences have reportedly missed the point though. Santiago states, “I think when people see the trailer perhaps or when they see the story, they see some cute little white boy and it doesn’t make sense to them or…it’s not authentic.” What’s a kid in trouble supposed to look like?

Luckily, Tim, his mentor, didn’t have the same preconceptions about who looks like they need help and who doesn’t. Better said by Santiago, “Tim offers him love and support instead of punishment and shame.”

And he continues,

Tim knew history incredibly well. He understood privilege and he gave back with humility. And he’s the example for a lot of men in this country. In fact, I wish everyone who’s struggling with racism right now would watch this movie and watch how Tim dealt with things.

Santiago’s motivation is this, “My intention is to see peace.”

And he says that,

I know that kids need honesty and part of the issue right now is we’re not really being honest. And all sorts of problems are starting to come up as a result of that. I think that’s part of the problem of us not healing as a nation and a society. We judge so much that people don’t feel safe to be honest about the things that they would feel shame for. So they’ll lie to not feel shame or blame. So we keep lying to avoid anything that’s uncomfortable. And the truth is the only energy that can heal….We’re growing. We’re in the process of bringing out that which is uncomfortable I suppose.

It must be said that Santiago did survive bad circumstances. And he did have the support of a great mentor in Tim. However, other people in trouble have been offered help and refused or take it and then go back to their old ways. I asked Santiago what made him overcome when so many others slip through the cracks. He admitted his real father has always been a huge influence. He was loved by his father and mother despite the situation. If anyone wants to claim he was a privileged child, then he would be glad to say that yes in the love he received from his real parents. He contrasts that to how misunderstood so many people are these days who aren’t getting enough love. And that’s why he’s giving back, with this film for one.

And while he’s a great advocate for hurt people, he admits that he couldn’t be like Tim right away. He had too much resentment to release, and more pain to get over.

He adds,

Everyone has a different path and everyone has a different debt to pay. But it requires being honest with yourself. I would tell any teacher, all of us have the potential to be a lot more like Tim but we have to follow his principles to live by.

Santiago doesn’t claim full credit for his evolution. He admits, “I’m very strong due to a power much greater than me. I’m here strong because of God. We are all children of those stars and earth. I’ll sit in the pain and not act it out like other people are. I’ve learned to release my tears and let go to come to a deeper empathy.”

Kids need strong foundations, such as a safe home, food to eat, consistent love and support from family and friends, and a school life that provides equal security. They pull from that to survive, even later on in life. If a child grows up lacking in any of those safety nets, then you can bet that deficiencies will come into play at some point during a crisis or even a moment of sadness.

might not make for a breezy afternoon viewing but it sure is an important story not to be missed. Certain films are meant to open our eyes to new ways of seeing. Perhaps after the recent violence our county has experienced at the hands of young men mainly in their early 20s, it might be time to sit down for a bit and reassess.

Now also would be a good time to check out the wisdom of Tim Moellering’s .

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