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Riding for Love

MADERA -- It's a scorching summer afternoon at the Lienzo de Charro Rodeo grounds. Hundreds of riders are grooming their horses while others are showing off their dance moves in front of a large crowd. The festivities are the conclusion of the three day Joaquín Murrieta annual horse ride.

Meanwhile, off in the distance, a group of actors and production crew are filming along a dusty stretch of dirt road near the grapevines. Their work will be used in the short film 'My San Joaquín' created by local educator, script writer and director Elisa Olvera.

"I am always looking for something new to do in the summer and this seemed like the perfect project," said Olvera, 47.

The Reedley native was inspired to create a short film after taking a film-making course at a local acting studio in Fresno's Tower District last summer.

"I wanted to create something that reflected my roots and touched my heritage and in doing so, I really wanted to incorporate pieces of the Joaquín Murrieta Ride," Olvera said. "It is an endeavor that has never been pursued before."

As production crew members moved hastily about to get the shots they needed before sundown, production assistants headed over to the rodeo grounds rounding up riders who would be interested in serving as extras in the film.

Local Fresno musician, Omar Naré, 27, decided to try out for a role in the film as a musician, hoping he would have the opportunity to sing, play the guitar or glide his fingers across his beloved piano.

Instead, he was casted for the lead role.

"I am a total amateur. When I auditioned, I read some lines and I got the part. It was a pleasant surprise," said Naré, who has no acting experience.

In the film, his character 'Antonio' is a passionate young man who was raised in the Valley, goes away to college and becomes a doctor. But, once his education is complete, he feels something is missing. He returns to the Valley to get back in touch with his roots. Surrounded by friends and family, he begins to rekindle the memories of his distant childhood while discovering and exploring pieces of his cultural history.

For Naré, acting has been a learning experience.

"I'm a little city boy so to come out here and be around horses is fun and exciting, but totally new to me as well," he said.

The Sanger native, whose upbringing came from a Mexican mother and a Syrian father, said he never heard of the Joaquín Murrieta ride until he was casted for the film.

"I don't think I am alone in this. I don't think many people in the Valley know about the legendary Joaquín Murrieta or the ride so this film will introduce them to that part of the Valley's Latino culture. For me, it was impactful to see some of the horses dancing. I've never seen anything like that before," Naré said.

Leading actress, Jeslen Mishelle, 27, plays 'Alicia,' the woman Antonio falls in love with. She said playing the role was challenging because her character's personality runs contrary to her own in real life.

"I think Alicia is afraid of falling in love. She is afraid of the whole romantic thing and I am totally not -- I am open to it," Mishelle said.

Perhaps the one thing she loves the most about the film is that it will "promote the good things that Joaquín Murrieta did and that he still lives on," she said.

"I think the history of this area is a lot deeper than people realize and those that are older and still living can tell stories their families shared with them of the fights and struggles and how they succeeded," said Mishelle.

Adrián Jilote, 32, plays Antonio's best friend, 'Sonny,' who provides the comic relief of a rather serious film.

"Sonny is the alpha male, a musician's musician who loves the ladies, not just one, but all of them. He likes to have fun and he is this man that never wanted to grow up," he said.

Co-star, Joey Fernández, 37, who plays Alicia's best friend, 'Sara' says the film hits too close to home.

"This film touches so deeply with my culture. I feel honored and proud to be a part of a production that will tell a story that can happen in someone's backyard," said Fernández who is Mexican-American.

When Olvera was considering incorporating pieces of the ride into the movie, she felt the story would be more powerful if it was created in the Valley and it would include a universal theme: Love.

"I felt the best way to capture the essence of the Latino culture is to make the film a love story, revolving around two people who are raised here and go away for a while, then come back under an extraordinarily different set of circumstances, meet by chance and then fall deeply in love," said Olvera. "We hear stories like this all the time. We may even know people in our own lives who have experienced love in this way."

Equally important was incorporating pieces of the Latino culture which she feels, are slowly fading away.

"I believe the newer generations of Latinos are growing up and forgetting about their culture and their past. In this film, I try to present pieces of our culture that aren't so mainstream but that reveal a deeper understanding of what our culture is about and what we believe in," she said.

Making a short film is the best way to go about it because of the technology newer generations are turning to.

"What are we going to see in the next 5 or 10 years? I foresee people getting on their cell phones, i-pad or i-phone, whether they are in a car, on the subway or at a train station and want to watch a film -- not a two hour movie, but something short and sweet to get that quick entertainment fix they are looking for," Olvera said.

'My San Joaquín' is expected to make its local debut sometime late this month.

Looking beyond the film, the cast hopes the finished product will reflect a diverse and talented group of individuals in the City of Fresno.

"I think it's important to remember that we can be creative here in Fresno. There are great actors and great musicians in both markets coming together to create great things and I hope that this is reflected in the film," Naré said.

Send e-mail to: cmoreno@vidaenelvalle.com

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