In seven days, Westlake Village resident Joth Riggs wrote, directed and produced an ambitious short film inspired by a biblical message.
In 10 minutes, the film tells a story of heartbreak, separation and forgiveness.
“Heartfall” was nominated for 12 awards at the 168 Film Festival Aug. 10 in Los Angeles, including Best Director, Film, Actor and Actress, Screenplay and Cinematography. Cast member Kevin Sizemore won the prize for Best Supporting Actor.
Films that are entered in the festival must be shot and edited in 168 hours (one week) or less.
The 40 volunteer crew members and five actors who worked on “Heartfall” included co-producer and co-writer Joel Kilpatrick of Thousand Oaks; his niece, 13-year-old Reagan Kilpatrick of Newbury Park, who made her acting debut in the film; and set designer Scott Nave of Newbury Park.
Each of the 152 teams that submitted their work to the Christian film contest created a story based on an assigned Bible verse and the theme of atonement.
Crews were given 10 days to prepare parts of the film, including the script and cast selection, and seven days to complete shooting, editing, scoring and other final touches.
The winner received $1 million toward making a feature film.
“Heartfall” is inspired by Leviticus 1:4, which says “You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you.”
Riggs said the film turned the ancient verse on its head.
Shot in four different locations— Riggs’ Westlake Village neighborhood, Oak Forest, Chatsworth and a home in Newbury Park—the film tells the story of a young woman (played by Reagan Kilpatrick and Jenn Gotzon) who becomes estranged from her father (Sizemore) as a child after a tragic accident involving her brother (Gunnar Sizemore, Kevin’s son).
The story shifts between the past and the present, between life and death. A twist at the end reveals the cause of their rift.
Riggs, who has submitted films to the festival twice before, acknowledged the “extreme limitation” of planning and shooting in a week.
“We couldn’t be climbing Mount Everest,” he said. “This is a character-driven story.”
But that doesn’t mean the film didn’t delve deep into an experience that all people share: finding healing through forgiveness.
“All human beings have some connection with atonement,” Riggs said. “The daughter forgives her father. She sits down with him. He shares his absolute heartbreak. When she was young, she wasn’t able to see his perspective. As an adult, she was able to see his pain and his heartache. He was a victim of the tragedy too.”
Riggs is familiar with lifechanging decisions. Several years ago, the entertainment industry veteran stepped back from a successful career to spend more time with his family and take on work closer to his heart.
The director, assistant director and producer has worked with major studios on nearly 70 films and television shows, including “CSI,” “Baywatch,” “Felicity” and “Party of Five.”
His packed schedule kept him away from his wife and two daughters, now 13 and 16.
“When they were little I was working crazy hours and I wasn’t seeing them,” Riggs said. “One morning I woke up and my oldest daughter, who was 2 years old, ran and hid behind her mom because I was a complete stranger to her.”
The incident opened his eyes.
“The next Monday I started to see all the broken and divorced families on set,” he said. “ I thought, I don’t want to go down that road. My career had been my highest priority. I recognized that I was off base. For me it needed to be God and my family.”
He also realized that his work did not align with his beliefs.
“ I want to make sure the projects I work on honor God,” the director said. “I worked for studios for many years, and my values started to erode I think. I didn’t necessarily want to be part of those films. . . . I recognized that the values I was putting out went against the values I believe in.”
“Heartfall” is a clear reflection of his values and those of his team.
Sizemore, whose small screen credits include “ Desperate Housewives,” “Prison Break,” “24” and “Weeds,” said his character prayed and gave everything up to God.
“My main reason for doing the film was there are not many Christian films,” said Sizemore, who has been involved with other 168 films. “I wanted to do a film to glorify the Word. If the film can touch one family, then we’ve done our job.”
Reagan said the film’s message is simple.
“I hope that people will learn to forgive easier,” she said.
Since the film is still being submitted to other festivals, it has yet to be released to the public. A trailer for the film can be viewed on YouTube.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/ heartfallmovie.