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Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #18: Kenny Riches Brings Miami to the Foreground in ‘The Strongest Man’

Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #18: Kenny Riches Brings Miami to the Foreground in 'The Strongest Man'

Breaking into Sundance’s notorious NEXT section that launched films like “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” and “Obvious Child,” Kenny Riches’ second feature “The Strongest Man” has found its place among the group of bold and innovative features that came before him. Riches heavily foregrounds the film’s Miami setting and diverse cast in an eccentric narrative that explores the futility of chasing legacies in a world that’s constantly in flux. Beef (Robert Lorie) searches for his stolen bicycle in an unconscious nod to De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves,” even as Riches explores a story that’s clearly marching to the beat of its own drum. 

What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?
The Strongest Man follows Beef, an anxiety-ridden Cuban construction worker, and his Korean friend Conan, as their lives get bumped off track the moment they agree to attend a spiritual meditation class.

Now what’s it REALLY about?
I think legacy is one of the major themes of the film. As humans we have this overwhelming notion that we need to be important and have a story to leave behind about our achievements and our strengths, but ultimately it really doesn’t matter at all. Humans won’t be around forever and those stories, like the one Beef is telling, will eventually mean nothing. But it’s a comedy! Outside of the main themes, the film is about these characters living in Miami, and it’s also about Miami itself in a way. You get a glimpse of the socio-economic and Latin/Caribbean cultural structures of a city that’s unlike most of the United States. So for me, I guess it’s about place and regionalism too.

Tell us briefly about yourself.
I was born in Japan, raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, and after bouncing around a bit, I now live in Miami, Florida. In college I studied art and left with a degree in Painting and Drawing. I have an art studio in Miami, but these days filmmaking seems to take up most of my time…!

What was the biggest challenge in completing this film?
I think money was the biggest challenge, but I’m sure I’m not alone on that one!

What do you want Sundance audiences to take away from your film?
I suppose I just want people to have a good time at the festival. I think it’s a film that is a lot of fun in the theater, but when people can sit at home and absorb it, they’ll pick up more of the details and symbolism.

Any films inspire you?
I don’t know if I can say that they inspired the story since I was already done with the script, but I definitely rewatched Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief. I also watched Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure for the first time since I was a kid. I remember being quite terrified when I watched it before, but it’s still pretty damn awesome. Large Marge!

What’s next?
More films, more art, more making stuff. I have a few screenplays going that I’d like to button up and start planning for. I’m writing another South Florida film that I’d like to make next.

What cameras did you shoot on?
We shot primarily on the Canon C300 and a little on the C100, with a Blackmagic Production camera as our B-cam.

Did you crowdfund? If so, via what platform. If not, why?
We’re running a Kickstarter campaign during Sundance that will be treated as sort of a “Festival Diary.” It should be a cool way to see how it’s going for those that are curious or just want to pre-order the film.

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.

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