‘In Case You Didn’t Know: A Conversation with Rhonda Ross’ – Revelatory and Raw!

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Photo: Courtesy of Rhonda Ross

As the eldest daughter and only child of music legends Diana Ross and Berry Gordy, Rhonda Ross has managed to rise above her famous parents’ shadow and carve out a career replete with film, TV and theatrical triumphs. She was bit by the acting bug at the start of her entertainment career and joined the cast of NBC’s popular soap opera, “Another World” as “Toni Burrell – which led to an Emmy nomination. Ross later went on to star in Showtime’s “Bessie Coleman: A Dream to Fly,” the film Hook’d Up, and toured nationally with the Vagina Monologues; It’s clear Ross doesn’t shy away from the spotlight, she revels in it.

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L to R: Patrick L. Riley and Rhonda Ross

And recently, all eyes were on Rhonda Ross as Patrick L. Riley from the digital talk show, “The Happy Hour” hosted and served as moderator for an intimate setting at The National Black Theatre. As he posed personal and professional questions to the singer/songwriter, I was surprised at her candor. She revealed details about her childhood that I think most celebrities with her family lineage would be inclined to withhold. For instance, discovering at the age of 13, that her then stepfather, Robert Ellis Silberstein, Diana Ross’ former husband, wasn’t her biological father and receiving confirmation why her younger sisters seemed different than her with their physical attributes. She thanks her mother Diana for being truthful and arming her with the resilience and guidance to navigate the world and providing unconditional love, as evidenced by the tight bond the 5 siblings (sisters: Tracee Ellis Ross (star of the hit series, “Black-ish,” Chudney Ross, younger brothers: Evan Ross and Ross Naess) share with each other. If you follow them on social media, they support and advocate for each other’s professional endeavors and their extended families with sweet, playful displays and undoubtedly fierce loyalty. As moderator, Patrick L. Riley coined it: “No one does blended, like the Rosses.”

Adding to the excitement of the night was Rhonda’s 10 year-old son, Raif Henok – whom Ross home-schooled. He can speak 4 languages and is very comfortable in the limelight, stealing the show on multiple occasions throughout the evening. Ross, when speaking about her son was honest about the hardships she and her husband (Rodney Kendrick), and musical partner of 20+ years had conceiving. She went on discuss the lack of and misguided instruction he endured at the hands of private school teachers and was lucky to find a home-schooling collective of people that helped her make the right decision for her son’s education.

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L to R: Rhonda Ross and son, Raif Henok

The audience, including myself, hung on to Rhonda’s every word. How could we not? It was a rare opportunity to witness a celebrity  divulge so much of their personal and professional journey with such honesty and bravado. Ross is determined to speak her truth and live an authentic life. The Neo-Soul singer continues to tour with her husband and mother, Diana Ross, throughout 2020 and has exciting plans to enter the acting world soon. To learn more about Rhonda Ross and check out tour dates, click here.

Review: ‘A Patient Man’ – Dauntingly Relatable

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Jonathan Mangum as Tom Alexander, Photo: Courtesy of dawn til dusk PR

Indie film A Patient Man by writer-director, Kevin Ward (The Mist) starring Jonathan Mangum (“The Sarah Silverman Program”, “The Drew Carey Show”) follows Tom Alexander’s life after a devastating car crash. Alexander decides to go back to work after 4 months and tries to adapt to normalcy, begins cycling to work, as he’s not quite ready to drive a car, and goes to therapy yet can’t seem to open up. He’s the solo character driving the story. The film is absent of subplots. And the audience has to decide if they like or dislike the character pretty soon. Luckily, Alexander, played by Jonathan Mangum, who’s a comedic and improvisational actor, can pull off this sullen, ready to give up on life character with just the right amount of cynical sarcasm.

Exploring and delving into the mundane details of life, especially after a tragedy; scenes, I believed intentionally placed by director Kevin Ward, allows the audience to identify and feel empathy for Tom Alexander. The action finally comes in when Tom meets a stranger, Aaron Clark played by Tate Ellington (Remember Me, The Endless) on a Sacramento commuter train he uses to bike between home and work. We don’t know if this a chance encounter or a calculated meeting by Tom, but as the friendship progresses, we discover Tom is crafting a revenge plot on his would-be antagonist.

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Tate Ellington as Aaron Clark, Photo: Courtesy of dawn til dusk PR

We learn about Tom’s life through flashbacks and Ward does an excellent job of weaving them throughout the story to give the audience enough snippets of information for us to follow and stay vested. Tom’s wife was killed in this life-altering crash and as more of the couple’s relationship is revealed, the more we sympathize with Tom. It wasn’t an ideal love story, something was amiss and this propels Tom to react instead of accepting his current circumstances.

A Patient Man requires audiences to be patient with the storytelling. This dramatic thriller insists upon evaluating a character’s trauma-inducing experience, as most people have endured at some point in their lives, and figuring out what to do with the cracks these situations leave behind. It’s a nice break from the numbing action-driven, over-the-top special effects blockbusters that only seem to get made in Hollywood lately. A Patient Man will be available on AppleTV, Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play on February 7, 2020. To learn more about A Patient Man, click here.

Review: ‘A Christmas Carol in Harlem’ – Modern Twist of a Favorite Classic: Delightfully Uplifting

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L to R: Emery Jones as Tiny Timothia and Charles Bernard Murray as Ebenezer Scrooge, Photo: Jill Jones

The holiday season is upon us and as you plan the rest of your entertainment activities with friends and family for the month of December look no further than A Christmas Carol in Harlem to fill you with glee. The Classical Theatre of Harlem brings to the stage a new adaptation of the beloved Charles Dickens novel. Its main character Ebenezer Scrooge, is a real estate mogul and community curmudgeon, who’s acquired his wealth at the expense of others and lacks empathy towards the less fortunate. He refuses to part with his money to help the needy without getting something in return. Scrooges’ lonely existence – and world – is turned upside down by the visit of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s former business partner, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. And, is forced to contend with the error of his ways. Almost two centuries old, this famous tale is as timely as ever with income disparity becoming increasingly prevalent throughout the country and citizens being displaced from their neighborhoods.

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L to R: Kaden Jones as Young Ebenezer, Charles Bernard Murray as Scrooge, Eryn Barnes as Ghost of Christmas Past, Photo: Jill Jones

Set in present day Harlem, this dynamic cast’s interpretation is replete with magical strobes; hip-hop, lively dance numbers and singers with impressive vocal range. The festive and wintry backdrop sets the tone and Charles Bernard Murray (Honkey Tonk Nights) portrays the miserly Scrooge with conviction and wit. The most memorable ghost in the production: Christmas Past, as she sashays across the stage with interpretive dance to transition between Scrooge’s past memories – a wonderful creative touch as only the Classical Theatre of Harlem group can conceive.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary season, The Classical Theatre of Harlem brings A Christmas Carol in Harlem production, with a 90-minute runtime, to the City College Center for the Arts’ Aaron Davis Hall from now through December 21, 2019. Don’t miss this spectacular holiday show for children and adult of all ages. To learn more about A Christmas Carol in Harlem and buy tickets, click here.

CREDITS:
The company of “A Christmas Carol in Harlem” includes: Eryn Barnes (as The Ghost of Christmas Past), Reed HarrisButts (as Bennie),  Kahlil X Daniel (as The Ghost of Christmas Future), Gabrielle Djenné (as Fan and Belle; The Bacchae), Daniel Echevarria (as Fezz; In The Heights, Something like a Fairytale, The Open Gate), Ure Egbuho (as Sierra Jones; Good Friday, Locked Up Bitches; SCRAPS), Paula Galloway (as Claudette; The Colored Museum, Ain’t Misbehavin’), Steve Greenstein (as Jacob Marley; Flashdance the Musical), Emery Jones (as Tiny Timothia), Kaden Jones (as Child Scrooge and Bennie), Charles Bernard Murray (as Scrooge; The Bacchae), Andrei Pierre (as The Ghost of Christmas Present), Angela Polite (as Clock Shop Lady; MARY SPEAKS, Flambeaux), Jeffrey Rashad (as Bob Cratchit and Young Scrooge), and Kenzie Ross (as Mrs. Cratchit; Blood at the Root, When We Left). The ensemble features dancers from Elisa Monte Dance includingTracy Dunbar, Kat Files, Daniela Funicello, Ashley LaRosa and Sai Rodboon.
Based on the Charles Dickens Novella; Adapted by Shawn René Graham; Director: Carl Cofield; Choreographer: Tiffany Rea-Fisher; Costume Design: Lex Liang and Margaret Goldrainer; Lighting Design: Alan C. Edwards; Music Director: Kahlil X Daniel: Scenic Design: Izmir Ickbal; Sound Design: Kathy Ruvuna; Production Stage Manager: William V. Carlton; Projections Designer: Shawn Boyle; Props: Samantha Shoffner.

 

Film Review: ‘People of the Wasteland’ – Frenzied, Raw Storytelling

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Courtesy of Jouzour Film Production

Anxiety levels are sure to soar after watching, People of a Wasteland, mine sure did! Heba Khaled’s experimental documentary short; shot on a Go-Pro for two years, chronicles Jihadist fighters, working under the command of Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the frontlines of war in Syrian-occupied territories against the Kurds and the Syrian army. This film isn’t an US vs. Them type of war genre. We don’t know whom we’re rooting for, since the audience is limited to the Go-Pro’s footage and essentially, it’s point-of-view, and we depend on the sights and sounds captured. We see what the soldier(s) sees.

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Director Heba Khaled, Courtesy of Jouzour Film Production

And, first-time Syrian-born female filmmaker, Heba Khaled, weaves and edits different moments where the audience witnesses brutal warfare, fighters interacting with each other and performing basic acts like drinking water and taking pictures of one another drawing empathy from the audience. Her time spent with CNN and Reuters allowed Khaled access to cameramen and the fighters because there’s absolutely no way she would have survived as a female in the trenches and she knows it. According to Khaled: “As a female filmmaker, it was impossible for me to be there to film this. It was very urgent to learn how men and masculinity controls radicalism, and this experience at the moment of killing in a war, and to transfer it in a cinematic way through my own eyes, mind and heart.” War and devastation: a familiar theme in Heba Khaled’s life has been ingrained in her; she’s lost 20 relatives to bombings throughout the years.

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Courtesy of Jouzour Film Production

People of the Wasteland’s experimental nature and powerful composition exposing fighters from both sides, even if it’s vague on identifying who’s who – done intentionally by the filmmaker, poses the question: What is the point of war when ultimately, everyone loses? Judge for yourself. Produced by Talal Derki, winner of Sundance’s Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Grand Jury Prize in 2018 for directing Of Fathers and Sons, and the Oscar® nomination for “Best Documentary Feature” in 2019. People of the Wasteland has fared well in the festival circuit, winning The Grand Prix for Best Short in the Berlin Liberi Film Festival, where Khaled now resides. The 21-minute short is under consideration for “Best Documentary Short”, and rightfully so. It merits all the accolades it has received thus far, and I would love for it to be expanded into a full-length feature. To learn more about People of the Wasteland, click here.

Broadway Review: ‘Tina’ – Riveting, Heartfelt, and A Testament To Tina Turner’s Indelible Star Power

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Photo: Manuel Harlan

Upon hearing that the Tina Tuner musical was coming to town, I had trepidation and a bit of skepticism. As a theatre and musical lover, I had no choice but to succumb to a new rendition of one of my childhood idol’s life portrayed on the Broadway stage. Would the actress playing Tina measure up? Would she be able to convey this powerhouse of a woman justly? Would the music move me? The answer to all my resounding questions: Absolutely! Tony-nominated actress, Adrienne Warren (Shuffle Along, Bring It On: The Musical) reprises her role of rock legend, Tina Turner; Warren had performed ‘Tina’ in London’s West End this past spring with rave reviews. And, now she’s traveled to New York to shatter all expectations of fans and critics alike. Warren’s portrayal of Tina Turner is sensational. The octaves in her similarly raspy voice to Turner’s are spectacular. Warren interprets Tina’s signature moves with grace, sans mimicry.

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Photo: Manuel Harlan, Steven Booth as Phil Spector, Adrienne Warren as Tina

The musical begins with Warren seated on the stage floor wearing Turner’s iconic red leather dress reciting a Buddhist chant. Turner, a Buddhist since 1973, credits the religion for helping her endure life’s hardships. Then the audience is introduced to a young Tina (given name: Anna-Mae Bullock) played by Skye Dakota Turner masterfully, belting out church songs with fervor in her hometown of Nutbush, Tennessee, where her mother, Zelma, played by the talented Dawnn Lewis (A Different World, This Is Us) isn’t too pleased and constantly scolds her for being to loud and boisterous. At the behest of her grandmother, played by Myra Lucretia Taylor (Macbeth, A Streetcar Named Desire), she pursues her talents as a singer, and moves to St. Louis to be with her mother and sister.

The pacing of the musical is perfection. There are no lulls. We transition through the different phases of Tina’s life with Tina’s hit songs and sets so visually stimulating the rest of your senses have to play catch up! The scenes between Tina and Ike are electrifying. Their chronicled relationship is replete with success and abuse at the hands of Ike Turner played by Daniel J. Watts (Hamilton, The Color Purple). Ike Turner is undoubtedly the villain from what is known about his persona and documented past relationship with Turner. Watts does an excellent job of balancing the complexities of Ike, as the abusive husband, yet talented musician that discovered Anna-Mae Bullock’s talents at 17 years-old, Watts is able to convey this atrocious man, with comedic flair at times, while showcasing his singing and dancing abilities. After all, this is a musical and the tone shouldn’t be too gloomy.

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Photo: Manuel Harlan, Adrienne Warren as Tina, Daniel J. Watts as Ike Turner

Executive produced by Tina Turner, directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia, The Taming of the Shrew), and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast (Mamma Mia!, Sister Act) ‘Tina’ is a true gem for biopic and musical aficionados. Run! Don’t walk to see this fantastic production of the Queen of Rock n’ Roll. Tina, The Tina Turner Musical will be on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre through September 2020, for upcoming performances, click here.

 

PRODUCTION: A presentation by Stage Entertainment, James L. Nederlander, Tali Pelman, Feste Investments B.V., David Mirvish, Nattering Way, Teg Dainty, Katori Hall, Mark Rubinstein Ltd., Warner Chappell, Peter May, Eva Price, No Guarantees, Caiola Productions, Jamie DeRoy, Wendy Federman, Roy Furman, Independent Presenters Network, John Gore Organization, Marc Levine, Carl Moellenberg, Al Nocciolino, Catherine Adler, Tom Perakos, Daryl Roth, Iris Smith, Candy Spelling, and Anita Waxman, in association with Tina Turner, of a musical in two acts, with book by Katori Hall (with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins), originally produced at the Aldwych Theater in London, by Stage Entertainment, Joop van den Ende and Tali Pelman.
CREATIVE: Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Choreography, Anthony Van Laast. Sets & costumes, Mark Thompson; lighting, Bruno Poet; sound, Nevin Steinberg; projections, Jeff Sugg; hair & wigs, Campbell Young Associates; orchestrations, Ethan Popp; musical supervision, arrangements, additional music & conductor, Nicholas Skilbeck; production stage manager, Kristen Harris.
CAST: Adrienne Warren, Dawnn Lewis, Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Daniel J. Watts, Steven Booth, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Gerald Caesar, Holli’ Conway, Kayla Davion, Charlie Franklin, Judith Franklin, Matthew Griffin, David Jennings, Ross Lekites, Robert Lenzi, Gloria Manning, Jhardon Dishon Milton, Destinée Rea, Mars Rucker, Jessica Rush, Carla Stewart, Jayden Theophile, Skye Dakota Turner, Antonio J. Watson, Katie Webber.

 

‘Hurdle’ Review: Palestinian Youth Combat Political Strife With Inspiring Creative Outlets

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Photo: Courtesy of Hurdle Film

The world is in political turmoil domestically and internationally as evidenced by the ongoing deadly protests in Hong Kong, Venezuela, Chile and Bolivia. Reaching its 50th year of Israeli military occupation, Palestinians have mastered the virtue of resiliency in fighting for their rights to exist and living with the oppression that brings social injustice; they’ve taken to the streets for half a century, and attempting to reclaim their land is nothing new. But what has emerged, and shed light on this age-old Middle Eastern conflict, is a fresh perspective by documentary filmmaker, editor, cinematographer, producer: Michael Rowley. In his film Hurdle, audiences can judge for themselves what Palestinians are fighting for.

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Photo: Courtesy of Hurdle Film, Mohammed by Wall In Occupied Palestine

Hurdle begins with Mohammed, a Palestinian photographer examining a wall built to confine Palestinians to their “territory” by the Israeli military. Mohammed is clearly anxious and frustrated by his and his family’s current situation, but uses his photography business to enlist the youth in his community to find what’s beautiful and intriguing in the midst of all the violent attacks on their people. It’s gut-wrenching yet hopeful to see this community persevere and strive for a better life and brighter future.

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Photo: Courtesy of Hurdle Film, Parkour Team Member Jumping

The film then follows Sami, a parkour instructor who teaches young men to jump and flip over rooftops and structures with measured form. Apart from the mental and physical demands the sport requires – it invokes the spirit of these young men to persevere, to attain the unattainable and overcome obstacles in currently occupied Palestine, even with all the violence and bloodshed simultaneously consuming their daily lives.

Rowley’s Hurdle film is candid. It shows daily Palestinian life: the celebrations, familial moments, triumphs and tribulations that connect us on human level. There are devastating violent attacks that can strike at a moment’s notice. On one side, we see people (Palestinians) fighting for their very existence, and on the other, Jews waving their flags rejoicing as they claim victory over their enemies. It’s an eye-opening experience to see basic freedoms we are all entitled to, squashed, but in succession, witness a movement of self-preservation and determination. Rowley documents the breathtaking landscapes and energy of Jerusalem with captivating cinematography and music. Winner of the Best Documentary Feature Film from the 2019 Tulsa American Film Festival, Hurdle is destined for more accolades and world-wide recognition. To learn more and check out future screenings of the Hurdle documentary, click here.

3rd Annual Festival of Cinema NYC: Hosted Brave, Brash, and Beautiful Films

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Photo: Courtesy of Festival of Cinema NYC

Festival of Cinema NYC has wrapped its 3rd season – and it was a season replete with films tackling trauma, love, and hope with authenticity. Cinema fanatics from not just Queens (host location), but all over the world were treated to more than 125 films, relentlessly holding audiences’ emotions hostage and settling up well-deserved ransoms at the end of each screening with sensational works of art.

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Photo: Courtesy of Red Dress. Red Straps film

This years’ roster of indie shorts held their own and commanded as much attention as their full-length narrative features and documentary counterparts. The films that merit mention: Red Dress, Red Straps, Keylight, and Coffee and a Donut – brief in presentation, robust with long-lasting, heart-felt and controversial themes that permeated well after their screenings. Red Dress. Red Straps by director Maryam Mohajer follows the story of a young girl in her grandparents’ home in the midst of Iran-Iraq war in 1985. She’s enamored by a pretty pop star’s red dress she sees on television all the while listening to her grandfather’s favorite radio program spouting “Death to America” chants. The child is nonetheless consumed with how the dress her grandmother is making for her will turn out during this upheaval in her life. The whimsical animation touching upon war, coupled with a child’s perception of the world she lives in is bittersweet and enchanting. Red Dress. No Straps was produced in the U.K. and won the Best Animation award from the 11th annual NYC Independent Film Festival. To learn more about Red Dress. Red Straps, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Keylight film

Keylight by director Simon Kay begins with former child star Sarah, (Samantha Strelitz) about to audition when she’s suddenly confronted with what seems like stage fright but turns out to be thoughts of a traumatic incident in her past she’s incapable of letting go. Sarah finds a way to channel this experience to bring forth her best stage performance – but via dark introspective means. Winning the Festival of Cinema NYC’s Best Cinematography Award, Keylight offers a fresh perspective on how people can address past trauma to release cathartic enlightening and rise above it. To learn more about Keylight, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Coffee and a Donut film

Finally, the last narrative short that resonated with me was Coffee and a Donut by director Cary Patrick Martin. The story is about a young Spanish-speaking immigrant (Memo), whom after hearing a patron request a coffee and a donut at a local diner, perpetually asks for the same order because it’s the only English phrase he’s learned. He suffers in silence as he watches others order mouth-watering pancakes and the like – until he meets a fellow Spanish-speaking customer (Rocio Mendez) that helps him learn English, but not without some hiccups. This short film has resonated with audiences as it explores the universal immigrant experience of adapting to a new country they now call home; it’s sweet, funny and empathetic; a film so vital in today’s current political climate, particularly with the current administration’s animosity towards immigrants. Actress Rocio Mendez received this year’s Festival of Cinema NYC Best Supporting Actress Award. To learn more about Coffee and a Donut, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Over 18: A Documentary About Porn film

Documentaries must be given their spotlight too. After all they focus on topics that are rarely covered in mainstream films. This year’s standouts: Over 18: A Documentary About Porn and The Queens. Over 18 by directors Jared Brock and Michelle Brock chronicle the life of Joseph, a 13 year-old boy recovering from a porn addiction since age 9. Shocking? Absolutely. As the film progresses and shares eye-opening data, the more disturbing it becomes. The filmmakers examine the correlation between the Internet and the easy accessibility children have to porn sites with inadequate, limited restrictions; the male porn stars and companies who’ve profited and continue to make money from pornography, the female stars exploited and left to pick up the pieces – post porn work, and most importantly, the devastating effects and consequences porn addiction can have on children and adults. The directors did a fantastic job of interviewing subjects to discuss their roles in porn culture – specifically content, distribution and consumption; and what ultimately needs to change to safeguard children’s accessibility. To learn more about Over 18: A Documentary About Porn, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of The Queens film

The Queens documentary introduces audiences to a whirlwind of female impersonators and female illusionists around the country vying for the coveted title of Miss Continental. The national pageant, founded by Jim Flint in 1980, is held annually in Chicago and has preliminary qualifying Miss Continental contests around the country and the world. Forget everything you’ve heard or know about traditional pageants. The true super stars are the contestants in this documentary. Filmmaker Mark Saxenmeyer follows contestants that have invested tens of thousands in becoming Miss Continental; the dance routines they create and practice; the lavish costumes and makeup they spend money on; the perseverance they posses is immeasurable. Saxenmeyer delves into the culture of female impersonators and what’s at stake for them to follow their dreams with grace and integrity. To learn more about The Queens, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Quest: The Truth Always Rises film. L to R, Dash Mihok as Tim and Greg Kasyan as Mills.

In a film festival, more often than not, there’s a film that makes you stop, reflect and ponder for a while what you just saw. For me, this film was: Quest: The Truth Always Rises. Quest, written and directed by Santiago Rizzo, is autobiographical. Rizzo’s character Mills is played by Greg Kasyan. Kasyan (Netflix’s “Daybreak”) portrays a troubled teen in Los Angeles from an abusive home that seems destined for doom with tremendous grit and vulnerability. The teen is a graffiti artist and is talented in his tagging pursuits and expresses interest in school, but lashes out, as he internalizes the consistent physical and verbal abuse his stepfather (Lou Diamond Phillips) bestows on him. There’s a teacher and football coach that takes notice of his behavior and attempts to befriend the youth, albeit with resistance, but ultimately changes his life. The educator played by Dash Mihok (Showtime’s “Ray Donovan”) shows a display of compassion and lack of judgment so admirable and mirrors Rizzo’s true-life mentor, Tim Moellering. Mihok interprets the character with great stoicism and sincerity and the audience can’t help but root for both student and teacher. Receiving Best Feature Narrative at this year’s Festival of Cinema NYC, I can’t recommend this film enough. We need more stories like these to be told and raise awareness of troubled youth, the good these films can do to improve their lives and impact change. I impart Santiago Rizzo’s words from his emotional post-film Q&A: “Trust Your Struggle.” To learn more about Quest: The Truth Always Rises, click here.

Festival of Cinema NYC’s name was recently changed from Kew Gardens Film Festival to promote film submissions globally. The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and Governor Andrew Cuomo recently acknowledged the tremendous strides the festival is making to promote filmmakers and their work, and the free programming film panels and workshops events they sponsored in New York City. To learn more about Festival of Cinema NYC, click here.