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Screening: ‘Ride With Larry’

Local Filmmaker Presents Documentary On Parkinson’s

Above: Larry Smith is the subject of the documentary, "Ride With Larry."

In honor of Parkinson’s Awareness Month, there will be two screenings of the documentary "Ride with Larry" (April 13 at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. at La Paloma Theater in Encinitas).

As the programmer for the student film showcase Film School Confidential, I had the pleasure of showing the short films made by San Diego filmmaker Andrew Rubin. Rubin has since gone to make a crowd-funded documentary about retired police Capt. Larry Smith as he cycles across South Dakota to prove that “if you love life, you’ll fight for it.”

Smith, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease more than 20 years ago, said he wants to do one last big thing before it’s too late: ride his bike 300 miles across his state of South Dakota to inspire other people living with Parkinson’s and to prove that sometimes the best cure is living life to the fullest.

I interviewed Rubin about the film and the process of making a documentary through Kickstarter.

Was the Kickstarter as much of a help in getting your film made as you had hoped?

Kickstarter was essential to getting "Ride With Larry" made. There was no financing available for us first-time filmmakers making a documentary, especially one some people didn't understand would be inspirational even when it was about someone with Parkinson's.

At the time Kickstarter was only about a little over a year old and not as well known globally as it is now. It was quite astonishing to us when we became the most successfully funded documentary on the site up to that point. Without the opportunity to raise grass-roots funds we would've never gotten this film off the ground. And it was thanks to Kickstarter that we can truly say this film was made possible by the Parkinson's community.

Would you recommend it for others to use?

I would recommend using Kickstarter, but it's not for the faint-hearted. You can't simply post your project and sit back and watch the money roll in. It is a 24/7 job from the moment you launch until the moment it ends. There's a lot of strategy involved, such as knowing who your audience is and how to reach them.

What about your project do you think made it so successful?

I think what made "Ride with Larry" a successful project was Larry, our story. Ultimately, "Ride with Larry" is about hope, community, and at it's core, a love story. We put together a trailer that showed who Larry is, the love and support that remains constant between him and his wife, Betty, and this amazing little town called Vermillion in South Dakota that has rallied around him. Larry wanted to do one last big thing before it was too late, that was ride across South Dakota to send a message that: "if you love life, you'll fight for it." It was that message that resonated with people all across America and as far away as Brazil and Europe. After that, it was our job as filmmakers and storytellers to be as true and faithful to the way Larry and Betty live their life as possible and help carry that inspiration forward.

How has it been trying to get the film out into the world now so it can be seen?

Getting the film out to the world has been both a challenge and a whirlwind. We've won numerous audience awards and everywhere we've screened we've sold out. In Mexico, at the Monterrey International Film Festival, they even had to add a fourth screening because of the demand. In other parts of the country, we've been approached by foundations, universities and local support groups that want to host screenings for their community. Ultimately the goal of this film is to get it out to as many people that it can help as possible and with the help of our executive producer Josh Haygood, who has produced and created several shows for MTV, we've had some interest from different distributors. However, all of that we can't officially announce until it's finalized.

The big push for us right now is to show the film here in San Diego where we are from. There are so many amazing organizations and researchers here in San Diego working on behalf of the Parkinson's community that it is great to be a part of an event that showcases their work and lets the audience become engaged, informed and active after the screening ends. Our vision for this film is something beyond the normal passive viewing experience. We think a documentary should be a catalyst, interactive. We hoped not just to entertain or inform the "Ride with Larry" audience but provide them with tools they can take into their own life or resources they may not have heard about before. And after the screenings, we've been joined by various groups that can help take the empathy and knowledge that you've gained and move it into something more active. After our La Paloma showings on April 13 we will have Scripps Hospital's stem cell research team discussing their incredible work, representatives from San Diego Americans for Safe Access to discuss what medical marijuana means for people with Parkinson's and our community, as well as the executive director of the Parkinson's Association. Later, anyone who saw the film (or just wants to stop by) can meet these panelists, get information, take it home or share it with a loved one.

Do you still have any ties to San Diego?

I will always be tied to San Diego. I was born here, grew up here, love it here. Recently I had to make the obligatory move to LA but whenever I can I come back to North County. San Diego never feels like a big city, and in the film community, it is quite small. But San Diego, and especially Encinitas and Leucadia, for me, is a place to come to detox from LA (not in a drug way), and get grounded... find inspiration.

What had you hoped your film would do -- help advance your career as a filmmaker or help build awareness for Parkinson's? Of a little of both? And has it done either?

Making this film was a very personal process for me and everyone involved (my brother Matt Rubin is also a producer). My father has Parkinson's and so did his father. Everyone who was a part of this film has someone they love facing Parkinson's. Larry is actually the uncle of our producer, Katie Skow and her husband, (and) our co-director, Ricardo, lost his grandfather to Parkinson's before the film was finished. As a filmmaker it was never something I felt would advance my career as I ultimately wouldn't place myself as a documentary filmmaker. Making this documentary was an incredible learning experience, one that took over three years, and it was the first feature I ever made. So, in that sense, it has accomplished a lot in terms of my growing as a filmmaker, gaining confidence, figuring out what to do ... and what not to do. Beyond that, this film was for my family and for all the families going through a similar story. And that story doesn't have to be Parkinson's. When you're faced with something like this, it isn't just an individual challenge, it changes a family's life. This sort of change can be more than overwhelming. My family has also dealt with Alzheimer's and we all sat down once while we were caring for a loved one with the disease to watch the HBO Maria Shriver Alzheimer's project and it depressed the hell out of us. It was this downward spiral saying this is Alzheimer's ... there is no cure, watch someone suffer. Most people with Parkinson's are told the disease is uncurable, here are the limited medications to take, they won't work over time, you'll need a wheelchair ... good luck. And then I watch my father find any way he can to combat this illness, and succeed.

"Ride with Larry" is about showing the positive side as there always is one, no matter what you're facing. It's Larry's indomitable will. Betty's unconditional, uncompromising love. The small town of Vermillion's generosity and Larry's stubbornness to always be giving to others even when he sometimes can't give to himself. So we decided to show the upward spiral, how a person, a place, a community, can transcend a diagnosis, transform it into this amazing thing. And then share that message with anyone who could use it. And from the reactions we've gotten so far ... I'd say the film has done exactly as we hoped it would do.

People think you're just getting money from family and friends. But that was not the case at all with us. When all was said and done, we had over 500 donors. Only a very small fraction of that were people that we knew.

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