By Kevin Longrie
International and independent cinemas are, generally speaking, underrepresented in the diet of most American filmgoers. With uncertain and often unconventional distribution methods, they have a hard time reaching markets outside of major metropolitan areas; with subtitles and often non-traditional plotting, they have a hard time drawing audiences outside of a select and dedicated set. But the right film, regardless of its budget, can have a transformative effect on members of a community inspiring, above all else, frank conversation about social and interpersonal issues. Dr. Harki Dhillon, the orthopedic and hand surgeon who founded the Riverside International Film Festival (RIFF) back in 2002, has pursued this theatrical transcendence for years with his growing team of cinéastes and has endeavored to bring it to the Inland Empire.
RIFF, which runs from April 8 to April 17 this year, provides a venue for over 100 features, documentaries and short films received from U.S. and international auteurs. In their ninth year of producing the festival, Dhillon’s team knows the ins-and-outs of successful programming.
“We’ve really gotten into the swing and rhythm of things by now,” Dhillon says. But it should not be inferred that the team behind the festival has become complacent. Each year there are new difficulties to overcome and opportunities to seize.
RIFF grows steadily over the years, Dhillon explains, and its augmented reputation gives it pull in the festival circuit for courting important and up-and-coming international and independent filmmakers.
“The quality of films is tremendous,” Dhillon claims. “Every year we seem to be getting better.”
Of the 111 films on display this year, scores of them are from countries like India, South Korea and Peru. RIFF hopes to provide viewers with the ability to experience international cinema on a massive scale, Dhillon says, without necessarily having to travel across continents to see them. “It’s definitely moving in the right direction,” he adds.
Community involvement is the lifeblood of the festival. This year, an internship for California Baptist University students has been added to supplement the volunteer base and to give the students practical industry experience (and, of course, college credit). Riverside Community College is sponsoring a diversity day, dedicated to celebrating and displaying diversity in film. The City of Riverside Human Relations Committee is planning its own series to be shown at the festival.
“We always encourage anybody from the Inland Empire [to make and enter films],” Dhillon says. The festival is dedicated to getting the best possible films from around the world, but it also provides a local leg-up for IE filmmakers. At RIFF, films can be seen by a wider audience and, with any luck, talent may be recognized by industry professionals.
As for the future of the festival, Dhillon is optimistic. He is intent on watching the festival grow in size and international relevance, involving more people, films, and funds.
“I’m hoping at some point,” he adds, “to have this festival as part of an entertainment industry market where we actually get people coming to pick films up for distribution.” This has happened at least once before, and with the festival swelling in size each year, it is bound to happen on a scale of increasing frequency.
Getting seen by the right people, Dhillon says, can make all of the difference to an aspiring filmmaker. But the same is true for the audience, which is always the first and last consideration of the festival. The right film can inspire its viewers; can make them think about the world around them in a way that is completely new and emotionally charged. And that’s what RIFF hopes to supply: the right films.
Riverside International Film Festival screening at UltraStar Cinemas at the University Village, 1207 University Ave., Riverside; www.riversidefilmfest.org. April 8, 8PM. $50. Opening gala reception at Culver Center of the Arts, 3834 Main Street Mall, Riverside. 6PM.