By Eric Barton
City & Shore Magazine
There’s a moment at the beginning of Miami filmmaker Kenny Riches new documentary that sums up his style. It’s a kid’s bike, speeding through a parking lot, with nobody on it. It’s teetering left and right a bit, but it almost looks like it could coast forever.
“We used to do that when we were kids. We called it ghosting,” Riches says. “You push the bike really hard, let it go for a while, and then try to catch it before it falls.”
The point, Riches says, was to illustrate childhood, the freedom of it, the adventure, the risk taking. Without making it sound cheesy. “If there were a kid on the bike, it would have been an image you have seen so many times.”
Riches uses the bike as one of the opening scenes in his film Salt to Sand: A Profile on Cara Despain. The film is a portrait of Despain, a Miami artist, someone who has taken some risks with her work, like that bike teetering along without a rider. It’s an intimate portrayal, and it should be, considering Riches and Despain have been life partners for nine years now.
Riches was coming off a big success when he started making the movie on Despain. His last film, a feature titled The Strongest Man, had a warm reception at the Sundance Film Festival last year, which earned Riches a limited distribution deal. He shot the doc on Despain in the Salt Lake City neighborhood where she grew up, across town from Riches’ own childhood home. They moved to Miami four years ago, and the film delves into what it was like for Despain to come from conservative Salt Lake to freewheeling Miami.
“It’s culturally opposite, and it’s also geographically opposite. I wanted the film to show what that does to her as a person and artist,” Riches says.
He also had this idea of showing something deeply personal about the person he’s closest with. “I wanted to show that she’s thoughtful and has this introspective dread, where she really questions the purpose of her life, personally and in crafting her artwork.”
Local public broadcasting channel WPBT2 had commissioned the film, and in July it was accepted as one of 25 movies in the nationwide PBS Online Film Festival. You can find it by searching YouTube, and if you do, Riches says you’ll watch a documentary that’s a bit unique.
“Most films are about someone the filmmaker doesn’t know and you’re trying to explore with the film,” Riches says. “I had the advantage of knowing how she was as an artist and as a writer and as a person.”