WATSONVILLE—Mexican Independence Day is Sept. 16, and the Watsonville Film Festival (WFF) is teaming up with two Bay Area organizations to bring a celebratory event to the community.
Celebrando La Cultura, to be held Sept. 15-18, will include film, music and dance. It begins with a virtual screening of the award-winning documentary “Linda and the Mockingbirds” and a showcase of seven other films created by the Los Cenzontles Cultural Academy (LCCA) from San Pablo. A virtual conversation with filmmakers will be held Sept. 16 at 6pm.
On Sept. 17 from 6-7:30pm, LCCA’s band, known simply as Los Cenzontles (“mockingbirds” in the Nahuatl language), along with Los Originarios del Plan, and Watsonville’s Estrellas de Esperanza youth Folklorico group, will hold a concert in the City Plaza in honor of farmworkers. The event is organized in partnership with the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts in San Francisco.
Consuelo Alba, executive director of WFF, said she was familiar with LCCA long before its founder and director Eugene Rodriguez approached her about doing a project together. They had screened one of the organization’s short films two years ago at their annual festival.
“I was very aware of their trajectory, the work they’ve been doing,” Alba said. “When Eugene asked us if we’d be interested … Of course we were! All of our organizations … our values align. We are all very excited to bring this program to the community.”
Rodriguez founded LCCA in 1989, first as a youth group before incorporating it as a nonprofit in 1994. The organization is a band, a music academy and a gathering space for youth and families; it has become a hub for Latinx artists across the Bay Area.
LCCA researches traditional music, creating work and documenting as they go, often working with alumni of the program.
“It’s been a way to understand my own Mexican routes and share that with my students,” Rodriguez said. “As it turned out, they have become my musical collaborators over the years. Thirty-two years later, we are still teaching kids and continuing our mission.”
LCCA previously worked with the McEvoy Foundation on “Linda and the Mockingbirds” and other projects. Together, they began brainstorming about how to work with more groups.
Celebrando La Cultura will be the first time the foundation is involved in an event outside of the Bay Area.
“This will help expand the [McEvoy Foundation]’s reach,” Alba said, “and it will put Watsonville on the map.”
“Linda and the Mockingbirds” follows well-known singer Linda Ronstadt as she travels through Mexico with Los Cenzontles. Together, they visit Ronstadt’s grandfather’s pueblo, learning about her history and culture.
“Linda is so famous, but a lot of people don’t know about her Mexican heritage,” Alba said. “Bringing [Los Cenzontles] along to connect with her roots in Mexico … It’s wonderful. We are proud to present this film.”
Rodriguez said that Ronstadt had been working on a different documentary before bringing on the producer of that film to finance and direct most of “Mockingbirds.” It was a challenging yet exciting experience, he said.
“Adding in that Hollywood element … we weren’t used to it,” he said. “But ultimately we created an authentic piece with high production values. It was an amazing experience.”
“Linda and the Mockingbirds” premiered at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco in July. The Watsonville event is an extension of that premiere, Rodriguez said.
“I feel very proud that our work is being recognized by such an established film festival as [WFF],” he said. “I’m so glad we can build these partnerships—not only with our music allies but also wonderful organizations like them and McEvoy.”
Celebrando La Cultura is both WFF and Los Cenzontles’ first in-person event since the pandemic began.
“[Los Cenzontles] hasn’t performed in almost two years,” Alba said. “Us hosting them here … it’s a big responsibility. Thankfully, we have a great team to make this happen. We are so glad to present this event, to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, and honor our farmworkers.”
Alba said that WFF will be following all Covid-19 health protocols at the concert. In addition, Salud Para La Gente will be on hand with a pop-up vaccine clinic and information.
“It is very important to us, to keep people safe, while providing a place of joy,” Alba said.
For information about Celebrando La Cultura visit watsonvillefilmfest.org.