The Newport Beach Film Festival begins in just two weeks and with it, scores of independent movie premieres.
I savor that silent buzz of anticipation in the dark just before the screen explodes to life, speakers vibrating with accompanying music. My skin is awash in goose bumps with the awareness that before me is the fruition of someone’s dream. A filmmaker’s sweet fruit is fertilized by sleepless nights, hard work, compromise, financial obstacles, perseverance and the longing to share a story.
I have scoured the Film Festival’s selections, and if you can only see one movie at the festival this year, it must be Matt Holwick’s documentary “Let’s Roll”
Your goose bumps will have goose bumps.
In 2011, Matt was a student at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara pursing a degree in film. One day during class a call came in and he stepped out to answer it.
Childhood friend and fireman Scott Smith was on the line eager to share the news of his upcoming endeavor. He would be among a group of six firefighters honoring the fallen heroes of 9/11 by bicycling from LA to New York City in 45 days, staying in fire stations along the way. Scott asked if Matt would film what he called the Ride for 9/11. One minor detail: they were leaving in two weeks.
Matt didn’t hesitate to sign on. He called his friend Derek Bazan, asking him to be his camera man. Another minor detail: he would have to temporarily drop out of school. Bazan began packing.
Derek filmed from the back of a flatbed truck, strapped in with a home depot tool belt that was connected to tie downs strapped to the truck. Matt had a remote control camera on a suction cup mounted to the front of the car.
“We had a plan, which was thrown out the window on day one” Matt admitted. Every cyclist rode at a different pace. Most had never ridden 100 miles in one day, and most met the first day of the journey. “We found the story within each rider.”
Along the ride, Matt learned more about the bonds all firefighters share. They are all family, and seeing members of their family perish on TV on 9/11 tore them up.
“It was a feeling of helplessness which they had not before experienced. These are men who are used to taking action right away.”
The six men with six distinct personalities pedaled through heat, rain, wind, cold, and fog; pushing themselves beyond aching muscles, blisters, flat tires, and falls. Yet none of the obstacles compared to the anguish they so vividly remember feeling ten years before as one of the darkest days of our nation unfolded. The men pushed on with resolve.
While the subject matter is obviously heavy, Matt said “there’s a lot of comedy in ‘Let’s Roll.’ They are fireman. Firemen are fun. They are funny and they get angry.”
He hopes the film brings some light to the darkness, but he shared another reason this film means so much to him personally.
“After 9/11, I felt a burning fire inside of me to do something for the families. That’s all I could think about. It just took me to quit working construction, learn how to make films in school and an old friend to call me and say ‘we are riding across the U.S. for 9/11.’ I guess moms are always right. Things will fall into place when they are supposed to.”
Matt and the cast and crew will be at the premiere of “Let’s Roll” on April 27. They’ll take their place on the red carpet, posing for photos with fans, friends and family members. I have a feeling however, the carpet they feel most honored to stand on is not of the red variety.
Theirs is a carpet stretching 3,300 miles connecting town to town, farm to farm, family to family, American to American.
It is made of hot asphalt, red dusty dirt and muddy potholes. It is woven with rows of wildflowers, fields of corn, steep peaks, tall trees, and bustling cities.
A fabric made soft by the tears of remembering and strong by the hugs of gratitude from strangers across the nation.
To learn more and meet the riders, visit letsrolldoc.com. Profits from “Let’s Roll” go to The Wounded Warrior and the Dennis Leary Firefighter Foundation. “Let’s Roll” screens Sat. April 27 at 3:30 p.m. The Triangle, and Wed. May 1 at 5:45 p.m. in Fashion Island. For more information, visit newportbeachfilmfest.com.