Nico Rivera, a junior at Eden Prairie’s PiM Arts High School, won the Best Student Work award at the Venice Film Festival (VIFF) last July for his independent film, “Remembrance.”
Rivera wrote, directed and produced the 28-minute film and composed and performed most of the music. “Remembrance” was filmed locally in Eden Prairie, Prior Lake and Burnsville Mall.
Describing the film’s plot, Rivera said, “‘Remembrance’ follows a disillusioned teen named Allison, who is given technology by her counselor that gives her the ability to view her past memories. Allison’s best friend, Julie, has grown distant and estranged from Allison. As she tries to understand her quickly changing environment, she is forced to uncover a past trauma.”
John Raasch, Rivera’s media arts teacher at PiM Arts, praised the film for its emotional power and the way it taps into universal experiences.
“Nico has a really specific voice in his storytelling already,” he said. “He has this very human, emotional connection, but also keeps this very ethereal, just-at-the-edge of sci-fi mystery and fantasy that makes his storytelling unique.”
After completing the film last May as a class project, Rivera screened it for his school’s film festival.
However, he said he didn’t expect the film to resonate so powerfully with viewers.
“I realized that I got across everything I wanted,” Rivera said. “People really connected with it in a way I didn’t. They were telling me personal stories … it was really touching.”
Rivera decided to submit “Remembrance” to several upcoming festivals through Film Freeway, a web-based submission platform. One of these was VIFF, but he said he had no particular expectation that it would accept his film.
However, in July, he was on a family vacation in Europe, which included a stop in Venice. While checking his email in a pizzeria by the Rialto Bridge, Rivera found out that he won the Best Student Work award.
“It was the morning we were going to get on a ferry to leave, and I found out that last night, a couple of miles away from my hotel, my film was screened,” he said.
“They didn’t invite me or tell me I was in it until they told me I won the student award. I didn’t even know the address. It had been in my mind I was going to be there around the same time, but I didn’t know the exact dates. It was crazy.”
Rivera added, “It was a very anticlimactic but surreal experience. Sitting in the same city I unknowingly won an award in the previous night was gratifying, but I also felt a bit cheated out of a really cool experience. Nevertheless, it is one of my biggest accomplishments, and I’m so happy to have gotten to show my work in such a beautiful place.”
A passion for making films, working with friends
“Remembrance” is far from Rivera’s first film. “I’ve had a video camera since I was 3 years old,” he says. “I’ve made short films my whole life.”
One previous film, called “The Small Things,” won last spring’s Nextwave Youth Film Competition, which is affiliated with the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.
Rivera said making “Remembrance” was stressful but rewarding. “I’d never made a movie over 10 minutes before, never worked with multiple actors, but I learned so much. It’s really helped me with making new projects.”
Rivera said he likes to write roles in his films for his friends and wrote the two main roles in “Remembrance” for classmates Mya Andrews and Marley Hilton.
Andrews, who plays Allison, said, “Working with Nico was a really inviting process. It really gave me an opportunity to connect with both him and Marley. Not only did I get to strengthen my abilities as an actress, but it also allowed me to strengthen the current relationship that I have with these two.”
Hilton, who played Julie, said, “We were all just hanging out and it wasn’t super strict, which made me feel a lot more comfortable with acting, because I don’t do acting. That’s not my thing.” She said it was “cool” to see the film come together.
Tania Montgomery, PiM’s director of student life, performed the role of the school counselor. Despite never acting before, Rivera said, “She was really good — she didn’t need any acting lessons.”
Montgomery said, “Nico was the consummate professional while working with him. He was encouraging, gave clear direction, and made it a very comfortable experience for someone like me who’s never done any acting! We are so proud of Nico’s accomplishments!”
Rivera said he plans to continue making films, and is working on a dark comedy called “Soap Box.” He said this film “basically takes a stab at the whole ‘making art’ thing—exploring different forms of art like singing, songwriting, dancing, writing, performance art.
“The whole film is about people who are bad at art, but have the passion to create art. It’s kind of a satire making fun of them, but it’s a very personal and emotional film.” Rivera said he has already secured multiple locations for the film, including the Walker Art Center and a comedy club.
Rivera said he plans to pursue a career in the film industry after graduating. He said he’s not sure he wants to go to film school, but, “I do want to make movies.”
One possible plan is moving to Los Angeles to be a production assistant. He said he has learned so much about film making at PiM Arts that he feels by graduation, he will be ready for industry experience.
Rivera’s YouTube channel features several of his films.
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