Running the film festival is a dream job for Gilroy high grad, filmmaker

Published in the March 27 – April 9, 2019 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Gilroy High School grad and filmmaker Mattie Scariot is in her second year of leading the Poppy Jasper International Film Festival. Photo courtesy Mattie Scariot

When Mattie Scariot, 52, took over as the director of the Poppy Jasper International Film Festival in 2018, she brought a fresh perspective and a wealth of experience.

A filmmaker who has made seven feature films, the 1985 Gilroy High School graduate returned to her roots to try to build the arts. She’d spent 20 years working in the nonprofit sector so she understood the structure such as how to deal with governing boards and what it took to stimulate community interest. When the film festival hit a rough patch, Scariot saw an opportunity.

“It needed saving,” she said. “The festival had a crew, and everyone worked hard to market and re-brand it. But it didn’t have a captain of the ship.” So, she joined as many organizations as she could, trying to spread the word and drive interest to the Poppy Jasper, now in its 15th year. Originally held in Morgan Hill, the festival spread to Gilroy last year. Scariot is thrilled to expand the reach of the festival’s offerings.

The Poppy Jasper runs from April 3 through April 7 at locations in Morgan Hill and Gilroy. It will highlight 105 films from 28 countries showing a diversity of  points of view.

“I’ve heard people say too many times that they’re not smart enough to go to film festivals,” Scariot said. “We want to break that misgiving. It’s not abstract. This is fun entertainment.”

That’s not the only misconception she wants to adjust. One of the changes Scariot implemented was to create an education program, reaching out to youth, adults, and seniors to teach people what they could do with film-making technology.

“Film is something anyone can do no matter what age,” she said. “We want you to find your voice through film. It’s something that crosses every demographic.”

The youth category features film from 60 children who created 15 documentaries after attending a Poppy Jasper-sponsored workshop.

For adults ages 40 and older, there was an opportunity to write, direct, and edit short films.

And for the first time, the festival added a 70-and-older category, in which more than 20 seniors filmed their stories.

“It gave them a voice through film they don’t always have,” Scariot said. “I asked a guy who’s 72 what he thinks this program will do. And he said, ‘I hope young people see that we still have energy, hopes, and dreams.’ Everyone has a story. People are fascinating. Start digging.”

She also made it a priority to emphasize female filmmakers. “This year, we have the highest percentage of women’s films we’ve ever had, close to 50 percent,” Scariot said. “We probably have 70 percent of films with women’s involvement, but I’m aiming for 50 percent to be women-directed films.”

The festival will also feature a female filmmaker panel. It includes what Scariot calls her “dream team of women” to talk about how to push the effort to change the industry to get more women in more leadership positions in the film industry including as directors and editors.

For Scariot, “change” is the festival’s operative word. Down the road, she’d also like to start a Poppy Jasper International Film Institute, start a membership, and create a film club.

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“Film is a viable career. It’s not about going to Hollywood,” she said. “This event brings together Gilroy, Morgan Hill, and San Martin. It’s a point of pride for me, someone who grew up here, to see it. I love seeing things change and making things better. It’s both scary and overwhelming, but fun.”

For Scariot, putting on the Poppy Jasper Film Festival is a lifelong passion.

“I feel like I’ve worked my whole life, and this is the job I’m meant to do,” she said. “For the first time, I get up and I have a purpose. I know what I’m doing — and that’s a good feeling.”

Donna Lane

Donna Lane is a storyteller and San Jose native who earned her journalism degree at San Francisco State University. She lives in Gilroy with her family, who inspire her to celebrate life each day.
Donna Lane