Virtual festival will run April 7 to 22 showing 170 films from 38 countries

Photo courtesy PJIFF
“In The Land of My Ancestors” shows the activities of members of the Ohlone Indian tribe’s efforts to preserve their heritage.

By Marty Cheek

Tired of streaming Netflix during the COVID-19 crisis? Get ready to enjoy a fresh set of movies, many made by some of the most creative independent filmmakers from around the world.

The Poppy Jasper International Film Festival will use a streaming platform to broadcast more than 170 films from 38 countries. From feature-length to short films, the festival will open April 7 and run until April 22. Online award ceremonies will also entertain and educate movie buffs as filmmakers discuss the craft of turning stories into cinematic art.

The experience of seeing films in a festival will open South Valley residents to new ways of looking at the world, said Johanna Calderón-Dakin, who is involved in marketing the festival through The Mesulam Group communications firm.

“A lot of these films won’t get (wide) distribution so this is your only opportunity to see them,” she said. “If you join Q&As with these filmmakers, you get to see the behind-the-scenes (process) of making a film.”

One of the unique aspects about Poppy Jasper is that it has remained a strongly community-based festival since it was found in 2003, she said. Some other festivals are more about the movie stars and famous directors, she said. But the South Valley’s home-grown cinema event really represents the community.

“You have these films from all over the world that let you see different cultures,” she said. “Film has the power to really show the world from a different perspective and allow you to see the world from a Mexican perspective or an Iranian perspective, for example. It allows you to connect human to human, and I think that’s one of the great things about going to a film festival.”

Photo courtesy PJIFF
A still from the documentary “45 Days in Havar.” The film will show at this year’s Poppy Jasper International Film Festival.

Various panels at this year’s festival will discuss some of the issues of the film business such as efforts to empower women filmmakers as well as bring more diversity of cultures into the process of making movies, said Mattie Scariot, the director of the PJIFF.

“Our mission as a film festival is to change the way people see each other through film and to bridge that gap in Hollywood with women and minorities,” Scariot said. “They’re not just underrepresented but misrepresented, and when we show films from around the world, that changes the dynamic and the way we see each other.”

The festival will also bring in a local flavor of South Valley. This includes greetings by various residents and businesses to introduce the various film blocks and the community awards, she said. Among the locally-made films that will be shown at the festival is “In the Land of My Ancestors” depicting the activities of members of the Ohlone Indian tribe to preserve their heritage in San Benito County.

As part of the PJIFF’s educational program, the festival will also premiere a 45-minute documentary film focusing on four Vietnam veterans from Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Hollister and San Juan Bautista.

“For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve told their story. It’s such a powerful documentary,” Scariot said. She participated in making the film through Gilroy-based 152 West Productions and describes it as a “life-changing” film to watch.

“It changes how you look at homelessness, at mental illness, at what we put men and women through when they go to war, and still put them through, things they see and then come back,” she said. “I’m really bummed we can’t give them that physical screening where the audience can give them that standing ovation and that welcome that they deserve. I want everyone to see this.”

Ticket prices range from $10 for a two-hour block of films, to $25 for a day pass to $150 for an all-access pass for the entire festival.