Through the Stanford Youth Environmental Science Program (now called Quest Scholars, “a mentorship and leadership-training program for exceptionally bright, low income and underserved students with an interest in higher education, leadership, and professional careers”), Santiago received full financial aid to Stanford. Quest was founded by Ana Rowena and Dr. Michael McCullough (photographed below smiling in the stadium during graduation). Michael and Ana are also in the last photos below with His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, and Santiago.

Were you nervous going to Stanford?

Like many of the incoming students from all across the world I am almost certain they felt much like I did – I was excited. But, I also didn’t feel like I fit in and was in a constant state of anxiety and wasn’t aware at the time. I was always in the past or future. It wasn’t really until my junior year after I read the book, “The Power of NOW” by Eckhart Tolle and began meditating that I started to feel a shift. Meditation helped me find another space of power and safety within me. I woke up for the first time, regenerated, refocused, and felt more restored. I graduated with a 3.55 GPA with my best grades in my last two years.  School is the way out, I urge every kid, no matter where you are with your studies or skill level, do not quit. Education is a form of freedom that no one will ever be able to take away from you. You can break through.

What Was Your Favorite Class And Why?

Social Psychology. That helped me understand  that our thoughts and beliefs shape our reality  and I began manifesting a different future by becoming more aware and open. I remember learning about Claude Steele’s “Stereotype Threat.” That the negative stereotype of a social group can conform other to  negative stereotype (perhaps because of anxiety). So what I got out of that was just the opposite  positive stereotype of a social group would generate positivity in others.

What was so different about Stanford?

It had big palm trees and beautiful buildings — it was so clean, you could tell people came together to take care of it and build on the future it represented. Everyone was so happy and nice. I couldn’t understand it at the time. I’m laughing right now. But it’s true. Besides Tim, Stanford was one of the very best examples of integrity. They encouraged your success,  they debated and challenged but they also listened to your voice.  This was a next new experience beyond Tim. It was like a safe haven — there was no violence or conflict.   It was a strange feeling for me; as I’m sure it was for many of the other students that arrived there literally by the hand of God.  The world can be a dangerous place and like many others, I would like to change that. Hope, integrity, encouragement, support and belief in that bigger and better future changes outcomes. But like everything else – it was going to take effort;  and still I almost blew that.

Did you ever feel like quitting?

I came into Stanford thinking I would be a politician or lawyer but my world shifted after I got suspended my sophomore year and rightly so. I spent that time in LA studying acting, reading scripts, and cleared my head. “God” can be slow, but never late. I returned a different person.
 
All the times I have wanted to give up have been exactly when I felt the most uncomfortable in my pain. It would manifest as aggression, agitation, discomfort, frustration, but underneath that was core pain. I am a firm believer that going into the discomfort, stripping away everything that covers it up, is the solution. If we remember to sit in the frustration long enough without acting, then the pain will rise and tears will release. The release is the healing process but for a long time, I didn’t trust it would end so I self-sabotaged. One of the main messages of Quest is to “Trust Your Struggle”. I do not give up and keep growing and improving. 

What Class Did You Really Not Like?

Probably my freshman year, introduction to humanities. I wasn’t ready for philosophy. I still needed to process my own shadows before learning what others thought about bringing more light to humanity. I’m sure they made some major contribution in their Quest, but I just wasn’t ready yet for those classes. Perhaps this is why psychology courses were my favorite — it helped me gain a bigger view and understanding of myself, my gifts, my purpose and a deeper yearning dream that was emerging.

What was driving you to succeed — given everything you’ve been through?

My pain. I’m someone who responds to adversity with the force of love, redemption, power and determination. And, that adversity comes with a healthy does of pain. I became a nerd in my early 20s… I just worked harder than anyone else because it was my way of coping. I was covering up deeper emotions that still needed to be released. It wasn’t until I stripped myself of that warm blanket that I went back into my cold shadows. Making Quest really helped me walk into the sunlight again. Now, I know there is an abundance of light and I keep pushing to get my movie out because I want to share that with the world.

How Were You Able To Overcome Such Tremendous Odds; To Qualify To Go To Stanford?

Tim helped me a lot. And, growing up in Berkeley and roaming the college campus, I learned at a young age that I wanted to be one of those college students. So, I always focused on getting good grades and trying to get into a college. School is the way out. I knew that all along. And school was safe to me. 

What Did Stanford Give You?

Gave me confidence and helped me value myself more. I learned that I am capable of applying my intense energy toward anything I put my mind to and can succeed. Everything is energy. Some of the kids with the most trauma and struggle have the most intense energy. If we can teach them how to channel and focus that in a positive direction, we would have a much safer and just world.

“Had many audience members sobbing cathartically by film’s end… Gregory Kasyan, plays 12-year-old Rizzo — “Mills” in the film — with an adept, brutally-honest hand that belies his age and leaves you with the distinct impression that you are watching one of our future greats in action...
It’s an assured debut feature that doesn’t pull any punches; you leave the theater transformed...
Rizzo — who screens the film at juvenile detention centers around the country — is the first to point out that some audiences can and will find the film’s subject matter challenging. “We are in a revolution of the evolution of consciousness... But if we are to evolve, our shadows have to come to light.”
MovieMaker Magazine
(https://www.moviemaker.com/archives/festivals/bentonville-film-festival-2018/)  

 

"Quest should be on everyone's awards radar.”
— Andrea Chase/Killer Movie Reviews


 

“Quest is an undiscovered gem… in the same way Forrest Gump defined a generation, it will leave an imprint on your soul in the way audiences have not seen since the quiet truths revealed in the Shawshank Redemption…

Quest deserves wide release so that parents, professors/teacher and caregivers alike may watch and discuss this film in the privacy of their own homes, cafeteria screenings and coming of age slumber parties… Hollywood must have the courage to allow Quest to reach the masses so we may pause, rewind, and press play - over and over again until every tear is wiped from our eyes and pain outcry are no more. The power of a kind word spoken at the right time is evident in this twenty first century masterpiece…”
Alicia Nichols, Emcee at Napa Valley Film Festival
(in “Members" section)


 

"A Modern day ‘The 400 Blows’… Powerful. Greg Kasyan — the Jean-Pierre Leaud to Rizzo’s Truffaud — won best actor at the Oldenburg Film Festival, Europe’s equivalent of Sundance. Ultimately, Inspiring.”
 — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

 

“Quest is the kind of story that breaks us down so we can build ourselves up, better than before...
This is not a feel good movie. It is a get off your ass and change the world movie; not the whole world, all at once, like a superhero, but bit by bit, one compassionate word and generous act at a time. 
Go see it and bring everyone you know!

— endigomatolla
(IMDb Review: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4188709/)

 

“This is more than Germany. People are nice but they don’t show their emotions so easily. This happened twice in the history of the festival.”
Torsten Neumann, Director of Oldenburg Film Festival, addressing the standing ovation.


 

“A powerful, tense, amazing performance by young Gregory Kasyan as Mills and a frightening, honest portrayal by Lou Diamond Phillips. Best film I've seen all year, and I spend my life studying and teaching film history and filmmaking. A24, pick up this film!!!.”
David Foulds 
(IMDb Review: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4208327/)


 

“Quest is likely the Best movie I have ever seen. Real, real, real. Intense, engaging, and ultimately about love, the thing we all so desperately need. We can all learn from this movie, a must see!
— James Schraider
(IMDb Review: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw3834483/)

 

“It was the most talked about film of the Festival - I never heard any comments that did not praise Quest... Exceptional film you will remember.”
 Rich PM (IMDb Review: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw3855627/)


 

“'Quest' is one of the best movies I've ever seen. Go and watch it!”
— larsrandolph
(IMDb Review: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw3808839/)


 

“I’ve never seen a more perfect movie… I’ve never poured down crying like that, ever in my life. Not for a movie.”
Bentonville, Arkansas Audience Member
(testimonial video #2 on home page)


 

“I could have never prepared myself for such a beautifully executed movie...All I have to say is.... WOW. Watch it! But be prepared to cry and have your whole world change after watching it !”
 Julia Sirbu (IMDb Review: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4010662/)


 

“It will leave you with all sorts of emotions and will move you in ways Hollywood has yet to.”
—@karolinastateofmind on @santi_rizzo Instagram


 

“This film should be shown in every school. It should be mandatory to every parent to see this.”
Cleveland Film Festival Audience Member C
(testimonial video #4 on home page)


 

“‘Quest’ is a film every teacher should see.”
Pamela Powell/Reel Honest Reviews


 

Saw this film last night and was absolutely blown away! It is equally hard to watch and a beautiful story I can’t wait to see again. Don’t miss it and come prepared… I want to be on the books that this will be The Indie film of the year… Of all the films I’ve ever seen, it’s in my top 5.”
Anne Stimac, President, A-Mac Placement
(Santiago Rizzo Facebook public wall)


 

"Brilliant acting ... and a standing ovation… Lou Diamond Phillips at his dramatic best… An inspiring story of hope… Santiago Rizzo is my hero.”
Richard Freedman, Vallejo Times-Herald


 

This movie is soul shifting!! We need to get this movie shared with everyone, but most especially with our young people.”
@reinspirate on @santi_rizzo Instagram


 

“Seriously, I’ve been talking about @questthemovie with my cast, crew, and friends since I left the screening. You are so brave and thoughtful on so many fronts and I really respect that… told Ava about it.”
Cierra Glaude, Ava Duvernay’s mentee, @sh00ter_ on Instagram


 

“Best movie I’ve seen all year.”
Katsitsionni Fox, Urbanworld Audience Member
(Santiago Rizzo Facebook public wall)


 

“The story of Santiago’s childhood inspired me to be more ‘vulnerable’ and this is something my ‘pride’ doesn’t really take it light. This movie is the definition of 'REALISTIC of Inspiration.'”
Junior B.T., 17 year old resident in an Arkansas Juvenile Detention Center
(letter posted in the “Members" section)


 

“Mind Blowing, heart wrenching, and soul filling… I can’t recommend it more highly.”
John Fike, teacher at Berkeley Unified School District
(Santiago Rizzo Facebook public wall).


 

“Quest was one of the BEST films I’ve ever seen… so powerful and so moving.”
-Mendocino Film Festival Audience Member D
(testimonial video #3 on home page)


 

“Realized why Hollywood isn’t listening. The rules are simple, not heroic. Anyone can follow them. They work. Your film, Tim’s film is one I’ll never forget.”
Chris Aigner, Cleveland Audience Member
(Santiago Rizzo Facebook public wall)


 

"It touched something in my heart. It reminded me of God’s Love for us… It was so good. OMG… I can’t stop thinking about it… It impacted me so much.”
-Cleveland Audience Member D
(testimonial video #4 on home page)

“It’s so moving that I can’t even speak. It’s going to take me a while to even make any comments on this movie. That’s my reaction. Truthfully.”
-Cleveland Audience Member A
(testimonial video #4 on home page)


 

“Resonates to much in Cleveland… you are sharing a revolutionary message… resilient unfailing LOVEEEEE.”
@gem2forest_city on @santi_rizzo Instagram


 

"The kids are still talking about Quest. Just had a meeting with one of our therapists and he said it had a phenomenal impact on the residents he is seeing.
— Jonathan Pickering, Administrator of White River Juvenile Detention Center, Arkansas
 (email posted in "Members" section)


 

“I used to be in the streets. I used to do all that stuff. But now that I’m here, that movie made me realize that I need to change my ways of what I’m doing.”
Resident in Cleveland Juvenile Detention Center
(testimonial video #5 on home page, 2nd resident)


 

“Words can not adequately express the awful beauty of this movie... Hit me like American History X... must see!”
Stephanie Comstock
(IMDb Review: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4154780/)


 

A 5 star film that needs to be seen by Everyone... God is in control of everything. When God says yes… he makes a way out of no way.”
Gloria Wadud, Probation Officer at Alameda County Juvenile Detention Center
(email posted in “Members" section)


 

“It was one of the most moving movies I’ve ever seen. It was so powerful and I told everybody to go see it and everybody who has seen it has come back to me and told me the same exact thing. Quest is a movie that must be seen by EVERYBODY.”
-Mendocino Audience Member
 (testimonial video #3 on home page)


 


“It was brilliant!!”
— Esa Krause, Asst Chief Probation Officer, Alameda County Juvenile Probation Department
(Santiago Rizzo Facebook public wall)


 

“'Trust Your Struggle'... it really touched my heart and made me cry. I would like to buy your movie and recommend to my family and friends. They would love it very much. It's very inspirational and loving."
Resident at Chicago Juvenile Detention Center
(letter in "Member" section)


 

I’m a retired preacher… Pay It Forward was a very moving film, but I think this one was even more authentic, more real. More nitty gritty. More real life. And I understood a lot more through this film about graffiti and about kids that act out… I think you can bring whatever is in your background or heart to the film. I think it’s a universal film.
— Cleveland Audience Member 
(testimonial video #6 on home page)


 

“Honestly one of the best things I’ve seen. Still thinking about it 24 hrs. later. I’ll carry it with me into my classroom each day.”
Cleveland Audience Member/Teacher 
(@clarkey865 on @santi_rizzo Instagram)


 

“Your film made my wife go to tears. She can hardly speak. She was so moved. Very moving.”
-Cleveland Audience Member B
(testimonial video #4 on home page)


 

“I was wrenched with tears from the start of the movie until the very end, and even afterwards. It was emotionally deep and touching. Beautiful.”
-Mendocino Audience Member A 
(testimonial video #3 on home page)


 

“Was hard for me to watch. I was just with that big apple in my throat the whole time. Very very moving. Very real.”
-Mendocino Audience Member B 
(testimonial video #3 on home page)


 

“Quest is the Best... If there’s one film you should see at Slamdance/Sundance... check out this gem.”
Kevin Kunze
(IMDb Review: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4049306/)


 

Saw one of the best films I have ever experienced last night and even had the opportunity to shake the phenomenal directors hand and get a hug. Quest was awesome and gave me a new insight on life and overcoming struggle! Thank you @santi_rizzo for this amazing film.”
Audience Member at Gasparilla Film Festival in Tampa, FL 
(@dbperez54 on Instagram)


 

“Couldn’t have loved it more… cried from start to finish… it’s amazing everyone needs to see it.”
Nicole Vasquez Henry, Mill Valley Film Festival
(Santiago Rizzo Facebook public wall)


 

“Incredibly Powerful! I can’t quite put it into words right now because it’s so fresh.”
-Cleveland Audience Member A
(testimonial video #1 on home page)


 

“Not only powerful but extremely important. In a world full of ego, we need to embrace humility.”
 @Arashdemaxi on @santi_rizzo Instagram


 

The movie Quest brought tears to my eyes… only love can heal… Thank you so much for sharing your truth with the world through this touching film.”
@lasonrisade_ale on @santi_rizzo Instagram


 

“I was absolutely blown away by this movie… Words just can’t do this movie justice. My favorite movie in the world. Please go watch it!”
—@Pizzathatscold14 on @santi_rizzo Instagram


 

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