Few people have embarked on a filmmaker’s journey, but with the advances in technology—quite literally, at our fingertips—making our own movies is easier than ever.
This is one of the messages that L. Mattock Scariot, director of the upcoming Poppy Jasper International Film Festival, hopes will inspire local people of all ages.
Now in its 13th year and expected to draw more than 3,000 people this April, the festival invites independent filmmakers, both local and from the far reaches of the world to submit their original films.
With still a month to go to the submissions deadline, Scariot, 51, says the festival already has received more than 100 films, some from such far-away places as Denmark, Malaysia and Turkey.
“We are discovering amazing, beautiful films that people would just never see,” Scariot says.
Scariot says the event got its start after a group of people in Morgan Hill decided to raise money for a local TV station, MHAT.
“At the time, it was a novelty” Scariot says, “But they got so much support—raising $65,000 the first year with more than 1,000 people in attendance.”
Scariot says the festival did really well for the first few years, but after a while it became more difficult. That’s when they asked her to take it over.
Kim Bush, the first director and one of the festival founders, says the festival has had its ups and downs, but she’s impressed by how far it has come.
“It’s pretty amazing.” she says. “When we started the festival back in 2004, I don’t think there were 300 film festivals in the United States.”
With the advent of technology Bush says there are probably 300 in the Bay Area alone, but the harder part, she laments, has been getting the community to attend.
“So you’re not getting car chases and shoot ‘em up films, but you’ll get really great films from up-and-coming, actors, producers or directors,” she says.
Bush says this event brings one more cultural aspect to the area.
“It’s expanded the horizon of Morgan Hill—and now Gilroy—to the world.”
Bush says there is a language to international films—a kind of universal message no matter what the genre.
Bush says she’s excited about the direction the festival is going, especially because of Scariot’s background in film.
“She understands the filmmakers, being one herself, and I think she’ll bring that understanding to the festival,” Bush says.
This may be Scariot’s first year as festival director, but as Bush mentioned, it’s not Scariot’s first experience in film. Involved in nonprofit organizations serving the arts community for nearly 20 years, Scariot is also a film producer and co-owner of 152 West Productions.
Scariot says because of her own experience in the arts, she’s really impacted by the content of the submissions she and her team are reviewing.
“Some nights I’m crying,” she says. “I feel like I’m connecting with these people. Even though I’m a director, I’m still a filmmaker and I’m just so touched by the outreach. People are connecting with us, Morgan Hill and Gilroy—all over the world.”
The festival has its roots in Morgan Hill, specifically the Granada Theater, now owned by Frank Leal. Scariot says Leal was one of the festival’s charter sponsors.
This is the first year that Gilroy has been invited to take part.
“The idea was always to have Poppy Jasper be a regional festival,” Scariot says.
Gary Walton, president of the Gilroy Downtown Business Association is also really excited.
He says this is one of those events that’s going to change Gilroy’s downtown and will bring people and publicity to the area.
“We have a very intact downtown and who knows, some filmmaker might want to use us a location for their next film,” Walton says.
Walton also says Gilroy shops, hotels, restaurants and bars should see an increase in business.
“The fact that the Poppy Jasper Film Festival is going to occur on the same day as the GDBA’s annual Wine Stroll should make the event even more memorable and bring a lot of vitality to our downtown,” Walton says.
With the enhancements in homemade movie technology, Scariot expects to receive a wide variety of films, from short films of all different lengths to feature films.
“We won’t know exactly how many films we are showing until we pick what we want, then we start programming it,” Scariot says.
Scariot says among the films she knows they will be screening is Cesar’s Last Fast, a documentary with San Juan Bautista’s Luis Valdez, film director and founder of El Teatro Campesino and a 2015 National Medal of Art recipient.
“We thought it was appropriate for our area,” Scariot says. “Luis is local. The director is in London, but we’re talking to the composer to see if he can come after and participate in the Q/A.”
With an event of this size, Scariot says it’s critical to get the involvement of the entire community.
Gilroy local Joan Buchanan is leading the charge for volunteers. Buchanan, the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce 2015 Woman of the Year, says this is a new venture for her, but she’s excited about the work ahead and is just starting to put the word out about volunteers.
“We’re open to anyone that might like to see some of these films as well as work at a station for a few hours.”
Organizing a team of volunteers is nothing new to Buchanan. For 20 years she orchestrated a team charged with garlic bread duty for the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Each year, Buchanan says she organized and recruited more than 120 people—25 people in two shifts for three days.
Buchanan says she hopes to get at least 50 film festival volunteers to work 3- to 4-hour shifts as greeters, ticket takers, merchandise salespersons or runners.
Like Walton, Buchanan thinks the film festival is a great idea for downtown.
“Both Morgan Hill and Gilroy downtown associations have been kind of looking for a joint project that would involve both towns—so I think it would be great,” says Buchanan.
Beyond volunteers, Scariot and her team have designed several events to engage the community and inspire others to explore filmmaking.
The Poppy Jasper International Film Festival is holding several filmmaking workshops in the coming months.
The workshops are designed for people as young as 4 years old to adults.
One workshop for kids ages 4-14 is taking place with the help of a grant from the Morgan Hill Community Foundation—the next workshop is Jan. 27.
“For our young filmmakers program, we’re working with CMAP and the local libraries in Gilroy and Morgan Hill,” Scariot says. “We’re teaching the kids to make their own movies with the iMovie app, and those films will then be shown at the film festival.” Scariot says while Thursday will be set aside for viewing films created by local filmmakers, children’s films will be shown on Sunday, when awards will be given out and a reception will be held. “The world is moving rapidly toward film and video as a preferred form of communication,” Scariot says. “Now everyone is filmed and video taped—en our conference calls: Scariot says they will not just have film shorts, but music videos.
“For millennials we have a music video program,” she says. “A team of five filmmakers will be shooting a music video of a local band.” Scariot says members of the community can sign up at pjiff.org to be ‘audience extras’ during the filming and the music video will be shown at the festival, where the band will make an appearance.
The third program is for ages 40 and up. “Back in the day, it was 8mm, 16mm, 35mm film. Filmmaking was complicated and expensive for the amateur or film student. I bet there are a lot of people who wanted to make a film but never did but with digital technology it is so much more doable.” Scariot says in three Sundays participants will be guided, as a group, to write a script, cast it, direct the film and edit and add music. Scariot says the completed film will premiere at the festival and she hopes after being shown how to do it, people will be encouraged to pursue filmmaking projects on their own. More than anything, Scariot wants to enable more community awareness and involvement in film and digital media arts, and connect filmmakers to the community.
“We all sit at home and watch movies,” she says. “It’s a little daunting for people to go to a film festival. But we’re picking movies from all over the world that you’re not going to see anywhere else.”
“It is really about connecting people and making a difference—these programs mean a lot to me.” she says. “If I can just change one person’s life by introducing them to something that gives them a purpose, then I’ve done my job.”
Scariot says they’re hoping to build a more self-sustaining model that operates like a business with paid staff.
“I want to do what most film festivals do—have an institute attached to them that runs the programming. I would like a south county film institute and run the festival where we have films year round. The better this festival gets and the more structure I can put into this the more I can do,” Scariot says.
She hopes this festival will introduce films and film festivals to people and inspire them to take film seriously.
“Film is a viable career choice,” she says. “It’s a good way of teaching kids and adults that you can do this for a relatively cheap cost and you can make a living at it—it’s creative and empowering.”
The Poppy Jasper Film Festival runs April 5-8, 2018 in downtown Morgan Hill and Gilroy. If you’d like to serve as a greeter, ticket taker, merchandise salesperson, or runner, email the Poppy Jasper International Film Festival at [email protected]. For more information about the film festival, visit www.pjiff.org.