mattie scariot poppy jasper international film festival
Mattie Scariot took over as director of the Poppy Jasper International Film Festival in 2018. Photo: Greg Ramar
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Sometimes people ask Mattie Scariot if she is Poppy Jasper. She is not. She is, however, the director of the Poppy Jasper Film Festival.

For one week each spring, the Poppy Jasper Film Festival turns the greater South County area into something of a cineaste’s retreat. Increasingly, it is becoming recognized for its role providing up and coming filmmakers an early shot. Last year, MovieMaker magazine included the fest in their list of 20 Great Film Festivals for First-Time Moviemakers. 

Now through April 19, Poppy Jasper returns with 260 films from 30 different countries, all screening across Morgan Hill, San Martin, Gilroy, Hollister and San Juan Bautista. The fest rolled out Wednesday with a student filmmaker day, then flickers through days themed around local filmmakers, women filmmakers, films from Mexico and LGBTQI+ films, culminating April 19 with a showcase of films from Iran.

Since 2018, Poppy Jasper has been run by Scariot. Her ascendency to directorship took a less than traditional route. 

“It was because nobody else wanted it,” she said with a laugh. 

Poppy Jasper (named after a gemstone native to the Morgan Hill region) began in 2004 as a fundraiser for local public access station MHAT. Though the station didn’t survive, the festival quickly outlived its original goals, becoming a source of pride locally and a valuable opportunity for young filmmakers internationally.

Scariot first became involved with the fest as a volunteer in 2011. A lifelong film fan, as a kid, she had felt instantly transported to the far-off places displayed on the movie posters in her local rental store.

“I grew up in Gilroy pretty bored and had a wild imagination. Movies and music was a place you could just disappear,” she said. “I remember, 10 years old, seeing a movie poster, and I knew I didn’t want to be an actress, but I would look at all the names below and all the jobs there. I was always fascinated with that.”

When she became aware of the local festival in South County, she naturally volunteered. Her wild imagination hadn’t gone away. In the early days, she found her ideas were often at odds with management. 

“I think my ideas were too big,” she said. “When I would talk about my ideas, I was told, ‘that’s just not how we do things.’”

That is, it wasn’t—up until a board meeting where the last remaining board member and treasurer both quit. Then, the festival was hers. Suddenly, there was no one to tell her her ideas were too big.

Since taking over, Scariot’s directorship has seen Poppy Jasper blossom. In 2016, attendance had dropped to only 300 people. In 2019, before the pandemic, it had grown to 3,000. Once funded with a purse of only $1,200, the festival now spans five cities, with Morgan Hill’s Granada Theatre as its homebase.

“I knew I needed the Granada,” Scariot said. “I needed to show people what this festival could look like, something that had a little more Hollywood to it.”

This year’s marquee films include “Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game,” a biopic about the fateful single pinball shot that saved the game itself, and “Bolan’s Shoes,” which explores the joys of glam rock and is directed by acclaimed Welsh actor Ian Puleston-Davies. Filmmaker Lane Michael Stanley, director of “Addict Named Hal,” which won last year’s Best Narrative Film award, returns this year with the short film “Boifriend,” about the complex ways parents sometimes only partially accept their gay and trans youth. 

Included among this year’s list are works by filmmakers from San Jose, Salinas, Gilroy and Menlo Park. On Monday, the festival will present an Icon Award to producer/writer/designer Lupe Valdez, co-founder of Teatro Campesino, honoring her lifetime of contributions to film and stage.

Of course, recent years have provided no shortage of challenges for the humble fest. When the pandemic hit in 2020, it came just three weeks before screenings were supposed to begin. After some scrambling, Scariot managed to screen a fortnight of films online for the 2021 edition. Last year saw the fest return to physical theaters—and even had its highest-ever attendance rate of filmmakers, some 300 directors, writers, actors and cinematographers traveling to South County for the event.

“That’s why we’re here as a film festival, to lift up independent voices,” Scariot said. “I want to hear as many as I can.”

Tickets and passes are available at

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