267 films from 30 countries shown in four South Valley communities

A child is determined to celebrate their 12th birthday with glamour in “Mud Queen,” directed by Luke Daly and Nathan Fagan.
Photo courtesy PJIFF

By Marty Cheek

The 2024 Poppy Jasper International Film Festival is set to take place from April 10 to April 17, bringing a diverse array of films from around the world, notable movie-making guests, and engaging cinema-themed events to the South Valley.

Festival Director Mattie Scariot expressed her enthusiasm for this year’s lineup. “What’s special about this year is that we have more films made by people in the industry,” she said. “They’re very savvy films and very well done.”

The PJIFF takes place in four communities: Hollister, San Juan Bautista, Gilroy and Morgan Hill. This year’s program includes 267 films (shorts and features) from 30 countries. It opens at 3 p.m. April 10 at the Gavilan College Theater with several blocks of youth and student films. The opening ceremony will be held at 8 p.m. on the campus, including performances by Gavilan’s music program.

Special days of themed films during the festival include Local Day (April 11), Women’s Day (April 12), Mexico y Tú  Day (April 15), LGBTQ Day (April 16), Iran Day (April 17). A special showing of music videos will be held 10 a.m. Saturday April 20.

One of the highlights of the festival for families is the return of the Saturday morning cartoons, which will be screened in Gilroy, Hollister, Morgan Hill, and San Juan Bautista. Scariot noted, “It’s a great way to get kids to come to the film festival. A few of the filmmakers will be in attendance.”

A special screening of a documentary titled “Forked” will be held at 5 p.m.  April 17 at the Granada Theater in Hollister (not the Morgan Hill venue). Directed by Liz Lachman, the film follows celebrity chef Susan Feniger on the journey to creating her first solo restaurant called Street — an eatery that brings global street food under one roof in Los Angeles.

Photo courtesy PJIFF Directed by Martha Grant, the short animated film “Llamas at the Laundromat” will be part of the family-friendly Saturday morning cartoons bloc of films showing 10 a.m. April 13.

The eight-day festival offers a range of activities for filmmakers, including mimosa brunches at a South Valley winery and two hikes (Mummy Mountain Trail in Gilroy and the De Anza Trail in San Juan Bautista) led by Scariot’s 83-year-old mother, Diana Scariot.

An emerging technology panel in the Mission Barn at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 14, in San Juan Bautista will include technology experts discussing the impact of AI on the movie-making industry.

“They’re going to be talking about what technology is coming and what’s changing and how it’s good for filmmakers,” Scariot said. “AI really does level the playing field for filmmakers, especially if you want to do science fiction or horror films. The technology is there to lower costs for films.”

An annual tradition at the festival is the Women’s Panel. This year it will be moderated by Zoe Elton, director of programming for the Mill Valley Film Festival. The panel will feature an open conversation about women in filmmaking and the “#PoppyPledge” initiative, which encourages attendees to take action in support of women in the industry and open the doors to them in an often male-dominated business.

“I feel like it’s a powerful panel for all women to enjoy,” Scariot said. “Women don’t have to be in the film industry to understand what we’re talking about. This is a problem everywhere.”

The short animated film “Scrunch Me Up” will be part of the family-friendly Saturday morning cartoons bloc of films showing 10 a.m. April 13. Photo courtesy PJIFF

Among notable guests receiving awards at this year’s festival is Lyle Workman who will receive an Icon Award at the Poppy Bash in downtown Gilroy Friday April 12 filmmakers’ party. One of the best guitarists in the world, the San Jose-born Workman has created music with notable artists such as Sting and Sarah McLachlan, and has composed music for films like “Superbad” and “40-Year-Old Virgin.”

“We want to acknowledge people in the entertainment industry who not only have had a lot of success but who also give back,” Scariot said. “Lyle is a mentor. He’s such a nice guy, too. I’m so excited for filmmakers to meet him . . . He’s here for a few days so can meet with people.”

Scariot encourages residents of the South Valley to attend the festival because there is sure to be something for everyone. A bloc of films costs $10. A VIP pass to attend the entire festival including panels and parties costs $300.

“There are so many great films and so many filmmakers coming from all over the world,” she said. “They’re spending a lot of money to get here. It’ll be nice if the community showed up and supported them. It’s a real blessing to have a festival that people will want to come to.”

Scariot emphasized the friendly nature of the festival as one of its aspects that has made it popular with independent filmmakers.

“It’s the intimate venues that make the Poppy Jasper special,” she said. “We don’t have a thousand-seat theater. When they come to Poppy Jasper, they’re seen, and they feel recognized and appreciated.”

With its diverse lineup, notable guests, and engaging events, the 2024 Poppy Jasper International Film Festival promises to be a memorable experience for filmmakers and attendees alike, she said.

The annual event was first held in 2004 in downtown Morgan Hill. It started as a festival focused on short films of 30 minutes or less and was created as a fundraiser for the Morgan Hill Access Television (MHAT) community station. Since then, it has expanded to four communities and has served as a boon to local economies.

The PJIFF is one of the top four events bringing outside guests to the South Valley region. People who come for the films also visit Gilroy Gardens Theme Park and the Premium Outlets shopping center in Gilroy.

“The festival stays in the downtowns of each city for the screenings,” Scariot said. “So people go to watch a movie and then they go and eat lunch and then watch more movies. And they go shopping and have dinner. It keeps them in the downtown and in the cities. It helps build economic vitality.”

Scariot’s favorite part of the festival is meeting the creative people who make movies and showing them the best of the South Valley.

“I love meeting the filmmakers,” she said. “It lifts me up and makes it feel it’s all worth it, especially when they’re happy. I stress about it until that point. It really does make me happy when they’re happy.”