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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

The movies are like a machine that generates empathy,” the Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert said. “It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

The 14th annual Poppy Jasper International Film Festival opened for a successful five-day run April 3, letting people develop a little more empathy through the magic of movies. The festival has grown during the years into a community and cultural event for South Valley. It brings people together to celebrate stories on screen that help us better understand each other as human beings.

It takes a team of volunteers led by Gilroy High School grad and filmmaker Mattie Scariot to host the audiences who come to meet the hundreds of visiting filmmakers and watch their films, many from other countries. This year they brought films that captured our imagination and took us to other worlds via the vehicles of projected light and stereo sound. With Scariot’s leadership, we see the festival growing in coming years to bring greater awareness to our region as a cinematic cultural center for independent filmmakers.

Gilroy native Randy Spendlove, who now works as president of the Motion Picture Music department at Paramount Pictures, returned to this year’s Poppy Jasper to share his stories and perform his music. Another Gilroy-born filmmaker had his movie shown at this year’s festival, a poignant one about the mental struggles American military men and women must face when they return home. “PTSD: An American Tragedy” was made by U.S. Army soldier Carlos Lopez, Jr., who died by suicide last June after suffering for years from post-traumatic stress disorder.

What we love about the festival is that it has a mission to keep filmmaking local. It’s not about Hollywood stars and autographs. It’s about ordinary people who have a passion for the movies. So we were even more excited to see the cinematic creations of local people who have gone through the Poppy Jasper’s education program to venture into filmmaking. The Poppy Jasper partnered with local organizations including CMAP, the Morgan Hill and Gilroy libraries, YMCA Silicon Valley and Gavilan Community College to host these workshops.

Along with the shorts from the Young Filmmaker Workshop where children get to experiment with stop-motion video and other fun techniques, the organizers brought back the Millennials’ Music Video where teens get to tell a story to a tune. The 40&Up Filmmaker Workshop enabled middle-aged locals to show off their cinematic creation. New this year is a 70&Up Workshop for senior citizens to learn filmmaking.

The Poppy Jasper also celebrates local people who have played an important part in making the South Valley region a good place to live. Three prestigious Poppy Jasper Community Achievement awards were presented Sunday, April 7, at the Granada Theater in downtown Morgan Hill. David Cox, the executive director of St. Joseph’s Family Center, Cecelia Ponzini, the co-founder and board chair of the Edward Boss Prado Foundation, and Karen Seeker, a past board president of the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley, were honored.

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The science of cinema got its start in Santa Clara County in 1872. On the grounds of what is now Stanford University, English photographer Eadweard Muybridge conducted an experiment with a horse trotting along a track to develop his pioneering camera work on motion. He later developed motion-picture projection using what he discovered. Since then, film has evolved as a fantastic form of art and entertainment. It takes long hours of hard work to produce a movie that can transport us to another place and time — or open our eyes to see the world from a fresh, exciting, and enlightening perspective.

The cinematic arts can empower us to better understand not just ourselves but other people with whom we share this planet. And local film festivals like the Poppy Jasper open the door for an audience to explore the less commercial — but no less interesting — movies produced independently outside of the Los Angeles-based studio machines.

We applaud Mattie Scariot and the team of Poppy Jasper International Film Festival volunteers who throughout the year dedicate thousands of hours to putting together the event. They gave many South Valley residents who might never have gone to a film festival some fun viewing independent films at this year’s festival.

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Morgan Hill Life Editorial

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