Teen Film Wins Festival Award

Documentary produced by students in UCR ARTSblock summer program honored at Big Bear International Film Festival


This skeleton made of found objects is part of the ever-growing, eclectic collection of art at Tio’s Tacos restaurant in Riverside.

By Pat Murkland

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A glimpse of family life at a Riverside folk-art treasure has won a film festival award for teen producers from UC Riverside’s ARTSblock.

ARTSblock students Bethanee Hughes and Monica Lawless-Gomez, both now high school juniors, won the High School Student Film Award from Big Bear International Film Festival for their short documentary, “In the Shadow of an Artist: Tio’s Tacos.”

This is the second award won by participants in the 2012 free summer “Off the Block” workshop, which taught teenagers ages 15-19 how to produce a short video documentary, including interviewing, filming and editing.

Photo of family

The family of Martin Sanchez talks about life with the Tio’s Tacos owner/artist in a documentary film produced by high school students at UCR ARTSblock. Pictured are wife Concepcion Sanchez and daughters Mayte, Kimberly and Estefani.

The first award, won earlier this year at the PBS 47th Annual California Student Media Festival, was for a short documentary portraying the life and activism of an undocumented teen immigrant, “Italia Garcia — Dream Activist.”

The winning Big Bear documentary features Tio’s Tacos, a restaurant in downtown Riverside that is a continuing art project of restaurant owner Martin Sanchez. Just about every inch of the place features eclectic folk art made from other people’s trash, including recycled and found objects such as bottles, cans and shells.

The restaurant and its artist-owner have been featured in other documentaries. Off the Block instructor Scott Hernandez said that the teen filmmakers originally planned to do a similar profile — until an emergency called the artist away. So, the teens decided instead to profile the family, including daughters their age. Their nine-minute documentary explores what it means to live with someone who sees trash as creative treasure, and what it’s like to live at a restaurant that’s also an evolving art project.

The award-winning film was aired at the Sept. 20-22, 2013, Big Bear festival, where co-producer Monica Lawless-Gomez, a student at Martin Luther King High School in Riverside, was among the screenwriters and independent filmmakers participating in festival discussions.

Estefani Sanchez in teepee

Estefani Sanchez explains why this teepee is her favorite work of art created by her father. The documentary film was named best high school student film at the Big Bear International Film Festival.

More than 20 teen participants produced documentaries in the Off the Block 2013 summer session. UCR ARTSblock, a downtown complex that provides a cultural meeting ground for town and campus, is seeking grant money to help continue the annual workshops, Hernandez said.

Instructors for the award-winning film were Hernandez and Jason Chou. Production coordinators were Jasper Bernbaum, Grace Cohen, Mikenzie Denholtz, Philipp Girke, Michael Papavero, Sarinah Simons, and Isabel Flores.

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