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2015 Sundance Trading Card Series: #8. Kenny Riches (The Strongest Man)

Kenny Riches The Strongest Man Eric Lavallee: Name me three of your favorite “2014 discoveries”…
Kenny Riches: The album Grand America by Magic Mint. The album Apple Juice and Whiskey by Rachel Goodrich (Rachel Hoodrich). A 35mm slide of my friend David.

Lavallee: What is the genesis of The Strongest Man, why were the comedic elements treated during the script phase?
Riches: It’s kind of a composite of my experiences in Miami over the years — from having my bicycle stolen to seeing street dogs and chickens to the art fairs to hearing a friend’s story about a meditation class, and so on. I guess I tried to make a visually interesting film and much of the comedy is visual or relating to certain objects that move the story forward.

Lavallee: How did you come to cast Robert “Meatball” Lorie as the film’s lead misfit? Could you describe his character.
Riches: I wrote the film specifically for Meatball. He’s a Miami artist and a real fixture in the city. I think his character, Beef, is a mashup of both our personalities. The real life Meatball is a very outgoing and charming guy, and I’m more quiet, but we discovered early on that we both had bad anxiety. I liked the idea of a physically strong character that suffers from common human insecurities. Like a Superman character.

Kenny Riches The Strongest Man

Lavallee: This isn’t your Michael Mann’s Miami. Could you describe the Miami that you’ve included as your foreground and background.
Riches: Miami is often portrayed as a fantasy, but life here is not necessarily like that unless you’re wealthy. I tried to make a film with the Miami that I interact with. If you get off the beach and out of the tourist traps, it’s a vibrant city with so much culture that you feel like you’re in an entirely different America. The bay area where Beef lives is where Meatball lived when we first became friends, so I wrote the story around that neighborhood.

Lavallee: Are you a fan of Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece?
Riches: I do love The Bicycle Thief. I rewatched it right before production. I thought it might spark something to watch it again, but thematically it’s a whole different film. I rewatched Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure too. That movie is crazy.

Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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