Hailing from South Africa, Ricky Cruz has made quite a name for himself in both his home country and around the world. The celebrated film producer has seen great international success with award-winning films like Foible, Mixed Orders, The Neighbor, and more. However, when asked what project sticks out in his mind as the highlight of his career, he does not instinctively say what is the most decorated. Instead, the climax of his revered career was entirely emotional, when one project allowed him to channel his emotions to create a master work of art.
Improv A Saving Grace was written, produced by, and stars Ricky Cruz. It is a documentary exploring the benefits that live theatre and comedy improv can have on trauma. The film follows the turbulent period of adjustment following losing someone and was produced to be a documentary to comfort, relate and hopefully help people in similar circumstances.
“While abroad, I lost my grandmother in South Africa to cancer. She was really my role model and inspiration behind everything I ever did. She gave me the courage and strength to pursue my dreams and when I lost her, I felt truly lost and broken. Eventually in an attempt to help soothe myself, I wrote out a stream of consciousness reflecting on my gran and how everything she did led me to where I was then and helped me accomplish what I wanted to do. The stream of consciousness helped but it made me want to use what I had learnt to channel my pain and frustration into something creative and productive. I shot a short experimental documentary exploring the healing effects that live theatre and comedy can have on grief and trauma, using the stream of consciousness as a foundation for a voice over narration,” said Cruz.
At first, Cruz did not know what the project would be. He simply began by writing a stream of consciousness directed toward his grandmother to try to put what he was feeling into some coherent description; it was his way of healing. The result was Improv a Saving Grace, the most cathartic experience Cruz has had with regards to film. It is truly a testament to the power of performance art and how important it is to channel pain into a constructive outlet.
“What was incredible was the parallels I began to draw on improv comedy and how I wanted to live my life: reacting honestly, listening above all and saying yes to life. I believe that if these rules of improv are applied correctly to a person’s life they really can improve the quality and nature of the life a person is leading and maybe even save them from themselves. It’s such a rewarding experience to finish a film feeling as though you have grown as a person and learnt things about yourself,” said Cruz.
It was Cruz’s grandmother that first introduced him to the art of improv, so the film honors this bond. It is a story of his pain, and although challenging, he lets the audience go on that journey with him. Rather than writing a script of their story, he decided to create a documentary to show the authenticity of their relationship and his feelings, and to truly show the art of improv comedy.
The documentary really was just a therapeutic piece for his own benefit, but he entered it into a film festival on a whim, and Improv A Saving Grace was nominated for Best Short Film at the Oregon Documentary Film Festival. Cruz still remembers sitting in the audience before speaking at the festival with his parents and being happy that the three of them could celebrate his gran’s memory through something that she had given him, which was the courage to pursue filmmaking and ultimately create true works of art.
“The film’s success is really bitter sweet. When I watch the documentary, the fact that my gran would never see it isn’t lost on me. I always promised to have my gran at the first award ceremony I attended for filmmaking because I owed everything I created to her, and after she passed away I was concerned that I would never fulfill my promise. Although she wasn’t with me, I would never have created the film nor attended the respective festival and set to work on the path I am now currently on without her belief in me and the connection we had throughout her life and following her death. I feel that the documentary’s respective success is another way for my gran to guide and be a part of my work and life. I can only hope that as I continue to explore the idea of turning the short documentary into a feature length film to explore the healing powers of live comedy on various forms of different pain, grief and trauma, that my gran will continue to subtly guide and be a part of the process,” he concluded.
Photo by Arthur Marroquin