Santiago Rizzo’s semi-autobiographical film, QUEST received the Mill Valley Film Festival Audience Favorite – US Cinema Indie. Not bad for a directorial debut, and doubly gratifying because it is a tribute to the Berkeley teacher, Tim Moellener, who probably saved Rizzo’s life. He certainly set the future filmmaker on a better path than the one on which his abusive step-father and passive mother were sending him. When I spoke to Rizzo in the Filmmaker Lounge at MVFF on October 15, 2017, it was after QUEST had screened twice at the Mill Valley Film Festival to standing ovations.
We started our conversation with how making the film, and facing his shadows, became a healing process for Rizzo; the effect of a director’s energy; emotional truth versus factual truth; and the choices he made about depicting child abuse on screen.
We went on to talk about societal hypocrisy; how integrity will allow the truth to rise; the importance of art in the time of Trump; the power of love; and what Tim Moellener meant to those who knew him.
We finished up talking about the film’s call to action; the fragility of trust; having Tim back for a little while in the person of Dash Mihok; the evocative cinematography that subtly advances the story; and casting the astonishingly assured Gregory Kasyan and the adolescent lead, Mills.
QUEST tells is a gripping, heart-wrenching, but ultimately uplifting story of how a dedicated teacher saved an at-risk kid despite suspicions from friend, family, and the school system that placed rules above need. The film stars Dash Mihok, Lou Diamond Philips, Lakeith Lee Stanfield, Betsy Brandt, and Gregory Kasyan. Rizzo directed from a script he co-wrote with Darren Anderson.