Ohlone elder Ann-Marie Sayers, San Juan Bautista businesswoman Monica Ramirez and two local Vietnam War veterans are some of the people appearing in films being shown at the annual Poppy Jasper Film Festival, held online this year for the first time. It opens April 7.
“We put the films on a platform called Eventive and people can watch the films they want to watch,” said Mattie Scariot, director of the festival. “People can buy a season pass if they want to see all the films, a pass for one day, or a pass for individual films. It will be like Netflix where you can pick and choose what you want to see.”
The festival will show 180 films from 38 countries and sponsor several special events including educational programs and panel discussions. Two days will celebrate films from China and Mexico, as well as films created in a special youth workshop of over 100 children 4-14 years old.
Of special interest for San Benito County, the Poppy Jasper Film Festival will host a conversation between Luis Valdez, playwright and founder of San Juan Bautista’s El Teatro Campesino, and actor Edward James Olmos, who starred in Valdez’s film “Zoot Suit.”
“We have films from all over the world,” Scariot said, “and our goal is to have half of them directed by women. They come from all different cultures and viewpoints. These are very well-produced films you will not be able to see anywhere else.”
The Morgan Hill-based festival began in 2004 and expanded to include San Benito County in 2019, when Scariot became director. This year, three films, “Our Vietnam Veterans,” “In the Land of Our Ancestors,” and “40 & Up,” were shot all or in part in San Benito County.
Scariot directed “Our Vietnam Veterans,” a short film which profiles veterans from San Benito and Santa Clara counties.
“We had a group of 80 veterans show up for a film on the Afghan war in our 2019 festival,” she said, “and it made me realize that these veterans are looking for films about themselves.”
Scariot interviewed one veteran from every city participating in the festival, including Ralph Marquez from San Juan Bautista and Ray Sanchez from Hollister.
“It was very hard for these men to tell their stories,” Scariot said. “But they were very brave and they left nothing behind. It is moving and I know myself I will never be the same. I will never look at a veteran the same. The impact that war has on the people we sent never leaves them.”
Sayers, tribal chairwoman of the Indian Canyon Nation, is profiled in the documentary “In the Land of Our Ancestors,” directed by Rucha Chitnis, a photojournalist and filmmaker from India.
“The stories I work on highlight the counter-narrative of the power and agency of women of color rising and raising their voices in the face of ecological and climate chaos, as well as economic inequities,” Chitnis said. “I heard Ann-Marie speak at the David Brower Center and was really touched by her life work in preserving the legacy of her ancestors and their culture and to really honor truth in history.”
Chitnis shot the film at Indian Canyon outside of Hollister, the only federally recognized Indian Country between Sonoma and Santa Barbara.
“I had worked on a photo essay on Ann-Marie a few years ago and we kept in touch,” Chitnis said. “But I kept thinking, ‘Why has nobody ever done a film about her?’ I realized that, as an immigrant, I have a lot to learn about the history of California and it seemed to be a way to create a relationship with where I was living now. What I hope people will get from the film is that it is important for us, the non-Indigenous people, to pay attention to the context and the history of our area. Learning and listening to the people whose lands we are living on is really important when we are thinking of holistic solutions to the various crises we are in.”
The “Filmmaking for 40 & Up” program sponsored by the Poppy Jasper organization and Gilroy’s Community Media Access Partnership resulted in one of the local films, “40 & Up.” It’s the product of two filmmaking workshops involving residents of San Juan Bautista, Gilroy and Morgan Hill.
“We were looking for people who were curious about filmmaking,” Scariot said. “We taught them to write, direct, and edit a short film over the course of three Saturdays. Half the film was shot in Morgan Hill and the other half was shot at the 18th Barrel Tasting Room in San Juan Bautista. It was a lot of fun for everyone.”
The plot involves two Elvis impersonators and ends with them driving off into the sunset down Third Street.
“My husband and I got to be in several scenes in different parts of our tasting room,” said Ramirez, owner of the 18th Barrel. “We’ve never done anything like that before and we had a great time when they filmed here.”
Ramirez, who serves on the San Juan Bautista Hospitality Committee, is also one of four local people receiving Community Achievement Awards. Other recipients include Ramiro Rodriguez, vice president of Infinity Staffing Services, Fran Fitzharris, owner of Brewery Twenty Five, and Cesar Flores, San Juan councilman and El Teatro Campesino veteran.
The Poppy Jasper Film Festival opens on April 7 online with daily programming through April 20. Schedule and pricing are on the festival’s Eventive page.
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