Poppy Jasper International Film Festival

Film festivals amplify the movie-going experience for many reasons. They allow us to celebrate the authenticity of indie entertainment, support impassioned directors, discover up-and-coming actors, learn new perspectives, befriend fellow cinephiles. This year, the Poppy Jasper International Film Festival (PJIFF) provides all these benefits through 105 films from 28 different countries (50% of which are directed by women), 3 panel discussions, mixers, and even a live band performance to coincide with a locally created music video.

Hosted in Gilroy and Morgan Hill, the surrounding area adds to the atmosphere—because as all movie lovers know, the right setting or backdrop is key for ambiance. “All our event locations are historic buildings within our historic downtowns,” Festival Director L. Mattock (Mattie) Scariot says. “We are also surrounded by beautiful mountains with over 30 wineries in the area.”

PJIFF’s title is fittingly regional. “The name comes from Poppy Jasper, a semi-precious stone unique to the Morgan Hill area,” Scariot explains. That also means its closely tied to a stone with red and yellow orbs resembling our state flower, the California poppy.

Another way in which this festival acknowledges its South Bay identity is by including at least one noteworthy film with local ties. Two made the cut this year. The first, a documentary called I Am Maris, tells the recovery story of a girl turning to yoga to overcome crippling anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder. The second, Harvest Season, exposes the “behind-the-scenes” world of the often-romanticized Napa and Sonoma counties, portraying Mexican-American winemakers and migrant workers during the nightmarish year that recent wildfires wreaked havoc on the area. Those with VIP passes will accompany this second screening with a wine tasting hosted by visiting winemaker Gustavo Brambila.

In fact, the underdog undercurrent in these two movies pervades the entire PJIFF event. This is almost certainly due to the fact the festival thrives today only after experiencing near collapse. When a disappointing attendance during the recession almost ended PJIFF, Scariot was recruited to resuscitate the event.

As a director herself, Scariot possesses a true storyteller’s heart. “I see a story in everyone,” she confides. “As a kid, I always liked listening to their life story—now I enjoy filming them.” Her years co-running 152 West Productions (a production company of feature films, corporate videos, short film documentaries, and entertainment videos) made her an ideal match for PJIFF.

“I have experienced film festivals as a filmmaker myself,” Scariot adds. “I tried to create a festival that filmmakers would enjoy attending and where they would feel valued, [that would] give people their money’s worth and educate our communities on the value of film (and that it is a viable career choice).” One of the areas championed by Scariot since her appointment to leadership is the event’s educational programs. Youth, 40+, and 70+ short film workshops have been provided leading up to the event. While the younger group utilized the iMovie app on tablets and smartphones, the older groups shared collaborative projects, “steeping through the filmmaking process from scriptwriting, directing, and acting to production.” The results of these labors of love will be shown during the festival. “I hope young people see that we still have a lot of energy,” shared one senior participant John Fletcher of Morgan Hill. “We still have hopes and dreams.”

PJIFF isn’t the largest film festival in the Bay, but it certainly has a whole lot of heart. “For most of the general public, I imagine the mention of a film festival conjures up images of quaint snow-capped mountain hamlets besieged once a year by celebrities, media outlets, and filmmakers vying to become Oscar contenders,” director-writer (and upcoming festival panelist) Kevin Rubio told Morgan Hill Life. “The truth is that all festivals start like this one—a small group of dedicated people with a passion for the art of movie making and entertaining an audience with a longing and an appetite for good films.” So if you prefer indie authenticity to unsubstantial blockbusters, we hope to see you there.

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Written by Johanna Hickle

Images provided by PJIFF

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