Austin Film Festival 2017 Review/Interview: QUEST

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

Based on his real life experiences under the caring guidance of his late teacher Tim Moellering, Santiago Rizzo brings his inspiring and emotional true story to film.  Rizzo grew up in an abusive living situation and often took to the streets to avoid the pain and heartache.  Tim Moellering was a caring and committed school teacher and coach who understood what he was going through.  Though advised not to get involved, Moellering  couldn’t sit back and witness a bright young kid’s future get flushed away by either drugs, crime, or some other way of coping with his unacceptable living situation.  Had it not been for Moellering’s intervention, Santiago Rizzo probably would not be telling his story today.  Quest is a loving tribute to a mentor who courageously stood up and saved Rizzo’s life and future.

Rizzo’s film tells a slightly fictionalized, but nevertheless truthful story of Mills (Gregory Kasyan), a twelve year-old graffiti artist who prefers to spend his time with other artists on the streets, rather than going home to his mother’s often drunk and abusive live-in boyfriend Gus (Lou Diamond Phillips).  With Mills’s mother Ruth (Betsy Brandt) away at work most nights, Gus is always home drinking either with his buddies or alone.  Obviously unhappy with his life, Gus takes out his anger on Mills.  When an opportunity arises to join the school football team, Mills signs up and gets to know teacher/coach Tim Moellering (Dash Mihok) very well .  As Moellering becomes better acquainted with Mills, he comes to the realization that Mills’s rebellious behavior, low grades, and unusual injuries are the result of abuse in the home.

Written and directed by Rizzo, who co-wrote the screenplay with Darren Anderson, Quest is a beautiful and triumphant film that celebrates and honors the amazing teachers and coaches who truly care about their students.  Rizzo and Anderson’s script is exceptionally written and Rizzo also shows tremendous skill as director of his first feature film.  During the Q & A session after the screening, Rizzo emotionally spoke about the late Tim Moellering, what he meant to the filmmaker while growing up and how he learned that there really are good people in this world.  I spoke briefly with Rizzo and actor Gregory Kasyan on the red carpet just prior to the screening.

Rizzo and Kasyan are very, very proud of the film and they spoke about the process of telling this true personal story.  Rizzo mentioned, “The film is based on an original draft of the script that Tim Moellering and I wrote.  It was a beautiful process for him and I to work on this script.  When he died, I needed to change it because he was no longer with us, so I made it (the film) more in honor of him.”  Gregory Kasyan, who is a young actor with already a good of assortment of roles in his filmography discussed what he learned from his starring role in Quest.  “It was my first lead in a film, and for me it was really a starting basis.  I saw the whole process of making the movie and gained a lot from the other actors.  They taught me a lot.”

Considering that the Austin Film Festival is known as “The Writers Festival,” I asked Rizzo what advice he would give to screenwriters aspiring to see their scripts turned into movies.  Rizzo said, “Based on my experience, and directing my experience, I think they need to be honest with themselves.  Write what is true to them.  Because if you do that, that is the voice people will relate with.  You have to stick with what’s natural to you.”

Quest offers some valuable messages about humanity and the importance of teachers and mentors to the lives of children and teens.  I asked Rizzo what he hoped audiences would gain from their wonderful film.  Rizzo said, “I hope that they (audiences) can really look at themselves and the judgments they may have for certain people from different backgrounds.  I hope that people can learn to to trust in the struggle.  (In the film) There is a very strong message to trust their struggle.  I also want people to recognize their privilege and come to humility.  That’s who Tim Moellering was and the world needs more humility.  We are lacking in that.  It really requires a shirt in energy.” Kasyan added, “It’s a film for everybody.  It’s a film for adults to see because they’re the ones influencing our youth and our younger generations.  I think if our youth watches it, they will understand the meaning of it to influence their future generations to support compassion and humility.  It’s a universal message that goes out to everybody.”

I would have to strongly agree with both Santiago Rizzo and Gregory Kasyan.  Their film reflects ideals of which the world seriously needs more–humility, compassion and using one’s means and abilities to help those in need.  The film feature outstanding performances by Gregory Kasyan, Dash Mihok, Lakeith Stanfield, Lou Diamond Phillips and Betsy Brandt.  It truly is a beautiful and loving tribute by Santiago Rizzo to the man who saved his life.  Currently, the film has not picked up any distribution, but as marvelous as it is, I hope this changes soon.

 

 

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