Inspirational and evocative, the movie The Samuel Project conveys how love of family can make a difference in one’s outlook on life. Nicely played out with a kind heartfelt story it’s a soft approach to an awful time during the Nazi regime that took so many innocent lives. By using teens that are so far removed from the war years, you can see how out of touch the younger generation is when it comes to world history.
High school teen Eli (Ryan Ochoa) loves to draw in his spare time, especially heroes and antiheroes, but Robert (Michael B. Silver) his father is not too keen about it especially since the boy keeps to himself. One day Eli’s Multimedia class gets interrupted by the principal as she brings in Kasim (Mateo Arias) a student who has to finish the year in another class since his metal shop was cancelled. The teacher give the class their year-end project, “Tell a story that teaches a lesson from history no matter how unknown, using a multimedia format that we have studied in class.” When he tells the class to pair off with another student, Eli ends up with Kasim a rock and roll hopeful who works for his dad Vartan (Ken Davitian) who owns a butcher shop.
In the meantime Samuel (Hal Linden), Eli’s grandfather that owns a dry cleaners has received a letter asking him to visit with Uma in Laguna Beach. It’s the person who saved his life when he was a child during WWII Europe. This opens up dialogue that Eli was not aware of and sets him on a quest to use the information in his school project. But putting together history with the use of projectors, music, and slides can be difficult especially since Kasim has no drive and just wants to last out the year as an average student.
The film moves along at an enjoyable pace as the drama evolves with very good acting depicting the challenged characters. Director Marc Fusco gets a lot of help from his production crew most of which are families and the actors in the movie. The project looks like a labor of love and comes off the screen that way as well. And what makes this film amazing, it’s a low budget motion picture with a big budget feel. Not having interviewed Fusco, I can only guess that most of the crew were friends and family who chipped in to get the movie on the big screen. It’s a blood, sweat and love infusion that so many independent films depend on to bring their stories to life for personal pride and to send a message. And having been in their shoes, I’m a champion of this type of filmmaking.
Ryan Ochoa puts Eli through his paces as a kid who’s oblivious of his important past. Only thinking about how he’s going to make his project get a high score, he actually becomes the lesson and the answer. It’s not what you bring to the future, but what you learned from the past that makes you a scholar. Arias’s Kasim on the other hand has found himself trapped with a dead-end future of working in a butcher shop the rest of his life. When the two put their heads together it all starts to change.
Linden and Davitian are perfect opposites as the characters Samuel and Vartan and add the comedy needed in between all the drama. The two are always at each other with Vartan’s laundry being the center of their discussions and an ongoing chess game gives them the only true link with each other. But it’s the two boys Eli and Kasim that reveal their adults true friendship, even though Samuel and Vatan’s upbringing were miles apart.
The Samuel Project has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic elements, some suggestive comments, and brief language. There is also a scene of peril.
FINAL ANALYSIS: A very good inspirational film. (4 out of 5 Stars)
Additional Film Information:
Cast: Hal Linden, Ryan Ochoa, Liza Lapira, Michael B. Silver, Mateo Arias
Directed and co-written by: Marc Fusco
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, some suggestive comments, and brief language
Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.
Opening Date: February 1, 2019
Released in: Standard