By Richard Rhinehart
Redlands, California, October 17, 2012 – The gala premiere of director Austin Smithard’s feature documentary “Two Shining Seas” at the Inland Empire Biking Alliance Film Fest October 13 at the Fox Theater in Redlands brought the Saturday night audience to their feet.
“To see the entire audience, at the end of a film, stand up in complete silence, was overwhelming and very touching,” said Smithard, who attended the premiere with veterans Brian Petras and Kevin Sullivan, who appeared in the picture. “Not for my filmmaking, but for the subjects themselves,” Smithard clarified.
Recording the dramatic 2010 cross-county journey of 18 disabled veterans in World T.E.A.M. Sports’ inaugural Sea to Shining Sea ride, the film by skilled filmmaker and cinematographer Smithard overwhelmed the southern California audience.
“To see a line – a long line – of people waiting to shake our hands after the screening, I’ve not seen or experienced that in years and years of making films,” reported Smithard, who studied under acclaimed director Steven Spielberg and worked with Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Company prior to joining southern California’s Aero Film. “People were in tears, and people just said ‘thank you’, and people asked for copies and ways to see it again … and share it.”Festival director Mark Friis reported the two showings of the documentary at the festival were inspirational. “I am so happy to have been part of making this happen. The conversations of hope and joy have yet to cease,” Friis said, noting that he intends to soon show the feature to an audience of veterans at the VA Hospital in Loma Linda.
A part of a weekend of bicycle-related features and short films, the Film Fest included two screenings of “Two Shining Seas.” The second screening, on Sunday afternoon, was to a younger audience, reports Friis. Following the screening, “many of them expressed thoughts of riding their bikes cross country.”
“To spend months making a film, and almost six more months sitting alone in a room editing, that is a huge responsibility to these people and indeed a drain on any one filmmaker to see it through,” said Smithard, who traveled across the United States with the disabled riders in June and July 2010. Intending to cover only a portion of the ride, “Chief” Smithard ended up following the riders through their entire cross-country journey. “The riding of 4,000 miles across the country was the easy part … their struggles before that event were the very things I wanted to get across in their interviews, and the very things I wanted to leave behind with the viewers of this film. Literally, when the curtain goes down on this film, these people will live the rest of their lives with the physical and emotional challenges they were talking about.”
On Saturday morning prior to the premiere, Smithard, Sullivan and Petras joined local residents in a fun bicycle ride through Redlands sponsored by the Film Fest.
“The folks of Redlands were very receptive to the film,” said Sullivan. “They were gracious hosts and very hospitable. We received a standing ovation and spent time after the showing talking with folks about the bicycle ride. I had a fantastic time and it was great to spend the weekend with Chief and Brian sharing our story with some wonderful people.”
“You will not find two better ambassadors than Kevin and Brian for the efforts of World T.E.A.M. Sports,” said Smithard. “I am very inspired now to send this film far and wide to as many festivals and venues as possible, so that this message and their stories can find the audience they deserve.”
World T.E.A.M. Sports’ Sea to Shining Sea ride, which crossed the continent again in the summer of 2012, is scheduled for another journey in 2014 with a new team of disabled veterans. Those interested in participating are encouraged to first ride in the non-profit organization’s annual Face of America ride from the Pentagon in Washington to the historic battlefields of Gettysburg in April 2013. Applications for the 2014 ride will begin in late 2013.