The 21st annual Riverside International Film Festival kicks off Wednesday at The Box in downtown Riverside.

Courtesy: Riverside International Film Festival

The festival was started in 2002 by surgeon Harki Dhillon to bring “the best in contemporary international and independent film to the Inland Empire region of Southern California,” according to the organization’s website.

“He just created it out of a passion for film and filmmaking that kind of came out of his dedication and his passion for filmmaking and independent film, you know, to create a platform for those smaller films that don’t really get big wide premieres,” Max Adjei-Dadson, festival programmer, said. “It’s a way to come together and celebrate those films and to really appreciate all the work and effort that people put into making them.”

This year, the film festival sought out “diverse and challenging” films that focused on social upheaval, human conflict and the boldness of the human spirit with an eye toward U.S. immigrant experiences, veterans’ concerns and overcoming adversity.

One of the films, which will be screened on the final day of the festival, is “Translations,” a film director Keith Kopp describes as a “Welsh romance drama.”

Courtesy: Keith Kopp

“It follows Stef, a woman who’s struggling with her mental health, and as she kind of believes that she’s got a handle on it, the walls start caving in on her,” Kopp said of the film. “And, at the same time, her brother’s best friend kind of comes to her, and there’s this possibility of romance between the two of them.”

“Translations,” is Kopp’s first feature film, but he has spent the past decade working in the film and television industry and developing his own short films.

“The more I did it, the more I kind of learned what it is that I’m interested in, like, what kind of stories I’m interested in telling, and I’m just fascinated by relationships,” he said. “I love things that focus on family dynamics or romance, real people stuff for the most part, you know?”

Kopp said he’s inspired by the work of actor and filmmaker John Cassavetes, known for “The Dirty Dozen” and “Faces,” filmmaker Ingmar Bergman who directed “Wild Strawberries” and  “Scenes of a Marriage,” and filmmaker Noah Baumbach, who wrote and directed “Marriage Story,” starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver.

“When I was a kid, cinema was the one accessible art form that I had available to myself, coming from a working class background,” he said. “And, you know, I was really enchanted with stories, and so I decided that was kind of like the path. And I mean, looking at it now, it seems quite fantastical, that someone kind of from my background could even kind of access the ability to make a film one day.”

Kopp, who was born in Oceanside and now lives in the United Kingdom, said both his mother and father were raised in the Inland Empire. His father, he said, was raised in Ontario and his mother is from the Riverside area.

“I think there’s just something kind of beautiful and hopeful to go on a journey with your life, and to have some obstacles, and then go back and have kind of a celebration of this art that you’ve created in, you know, the area that you’re kind of from, I think that’s pretty amazing,” he said.

“Translations,” will be screened at 12:15 p.m. Sunday at Ramona High School and will be followed by a Q&A session with Kopp. The film’s trailer can be found here.

“The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is bringing Welsh culture to an audience,” he said. “There are actually quite a few people from Wales in the United States, and yet, the culture itself, I don’t think is really widely known or represented, so that kind of excites me.”

In addition to the screenings, the festival will also feature an acting workshop with actor Brent Huff who played Officer Smitty on ABC’s “The Rookie,” and an animation directing workshop with Luke Cormican, who directed “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” and “Teen Titans GO!” 

The festival will also honor the work of actress Patty McCormack, the youngest actress to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with a lifetime achievement award.

“Another element that’s going to be a big draw is we’re partnering with Inland Empire high schools to create a section just for them, the Inland Empire High School Film Festival,” Adjei-Dadson said. “So a lot of students from school schools all around the Inland Empire submitted their films, and we’re doing a special screening of all of those on Sunday at Ramona High School, so that’s also going to be pretty exciting.”

The Riverside International Film Festival will again be held both in person and virtually. From Wednesday through Friday, the festival will be held at The Box in downtown Riverside. On Saturday and Sunday, the event will be held at Ramona High School on Magnolia Avenue. There will also be post-festival exclusives for those attending virtually.

“In 2022, we started the hybrid festival, where we would show the films online simultaneously while streaming them in person,” Adjei-Dadson said. “So we’re bringing that back this year, actually, and we have a special segment, specifically, just for online only films, that’s our after hours online exclusive. 

“We have a lot of international filmmakers who just can’t attend the screenings, so having them online, they have the opportunity to host their own screenings in their own homes with their own friends and family and with other people who are interested,” Adjei-Dadson continued. “And not just the filmmakers, just international viewers who can’t make it to Riverside, and then they can join in to the festival as well, so that’s been pretty great to be able to reach a wider audience with the online festival as well.”

Those interested in attending can find a full schedule of events here. Tickets for those attending in person can be purchased at the box office the day of the festival and online here for those attending remotely.

“We’re just really excited for the lineup this year,” Adjei-Dadson said. “It’s really exciting to be able to partner with the Inland Empire high schools and to be able to get their work out there as well, so we’re just looking forward to I guess this being the start of a long lasting collaboration between us.”

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