Drought Hits Home

USC graduate Katie Espejo, far left, is joined by her director on the movie “As The River Goes” Ariel Blandford and Ellsworth Turner who assisted, during a brief question and answer period following the local premiere of the film which tells of the plight of East Porterville residents who have lost their water wells.

Film on drought a hit

A class project that then turned into a labor of love and then an “obligation” showed  to a large audience to great reviews Saturday.

Katie Espejo, a Porterville High grad and now a graduate of the University of Southern California, showed for the first time in Porterville the movie “As The River Goes” she and a group of other USC film students did about the drought and its devastating affects it has had on East Porterville.

“I thought it was very strong, a powerful message,” said local attorney Robert Krase after joining about 150 others to watch the 18-minute film at the Barn Theater.

“Outstanding. I was very impressed,” added Mayor Milt Stowe. “I am very grateful to these young people,” he added.

Espejo chose to tell the story of East Porterville as a documentary as her senior film project. Students in the film program at USC must do shorts films and after Espejo’s cousin’s house – which was her grandmother’s house when she grew up in Porterville – ran out of water, Espejo said she wanted to do her film on the drought.

She pitched her idea knowing that a documentary had never been done as a project, and that USC had a rule that the films had to be shot within a 50-mile radius of the campus. Somehow, she was convincing enough that her idea was one of six film projects selected.

Espejo was the director and she was joined by friend Ariel Blandford as the producer and 10 others who made numerous trips to Porterville and even filmed the state Senate panel hearing in Sacramento on the drought. The group was also assisted by Ellsworth Turner, who lives in Porterville, who wrote the music and assisted in its production.

“The intention of the film was to not only make people aware, but to bring help,” said Espejo before showing the movie she now hopes to turn into a full-length feature. “I felt we had an obligation to tell the story.”

Blandford said the filming was very emotional for the crew members.

“It was an emotional roller-coaster, but that’s what motivated us,” she said.

According to Hilary Johnson, a friend of Espejo’s who attended the first showing of the film at USC, said the story had a big impact on the audience.

“It was astounding to see people around us, their emotional reaction, Johnson said Saturday. She then told Espejo, “As much as it has affected you, I know it will affect everyone who sees it.”

The film, shot on a budget of $7,000 in less than five months, highlights the struggles of families in East Porterville whose wells have gone dry. Yolanda Frausto tells of the day their well went dry, and how hard it has been especially with a son who suffers from cystic fibrosis.

Donna Johnson, who first brought the seriousness of the situation to light a year ago and has helped hundreds, and Fred and Elva Beltran with Porterville Area Coordinating Council tell of their efforts and how much the disaster has impacted families.

At last estimate, more than 700 homes in East Porterville have no running water because their wells have gone dry. About half of those are now being served by a large tank placed in their front yards which is plumbed into the home to give them some water. But, it is only enough for basic needs. Washing clothes, dishes, running swamp coolers and watering landscaping are luxuries those families do not have.

“I want to thank all of you for what you’ve done for this community,” Johnson told Espejo, Blandford and Turner Saturday night. 

Espejo was very pleased with the turnout, saying she hoped it was not just her and her family who turned out. The audience, which filled the Barn Theater, gave the students a standing ovation at the end.

“I would hope all the right people see this and bring help to this area,” said Katie, who was joined by her parents, Ron and Libby Espejo.

“I am so proud,” said her mother.

The film has been put in the Sacramento film festival and they have several more showings planned. The next step is to make it a feature and they ae seeking donations to help them fund the $50,000 project. It is also now available on their website: astherivergoes.com.

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