Last March, film director Melissa Elizondo was about to board a plane from Mexico bound for the Watsonville Film Festival (WFF) when she got a call from Executive Director Consuelo Alba. The festival had been canceled due to the pandemic, and international travel was rapidly shutting down.
“She was my first call,” Alba said. “I caught her on her way to the airport. It was so sad.”
WFF was the first major event in the Pajaro Valley to be canceled because of the virus. Since then, the organization has held onto one of Elizondo’s films, “The Sower,” for hopes of showing it at a future event.
The collaboration will finally happen at this year’s festival, set for March 5-13. The virtual event will feature some 20 films, from award-winning documentaries and shorts to local work.
Alba said they have been hard at work selecting and curating films. They’ve searched for some, and had others submitted to them directly.
“We might not be Sundance, but our films are of the same quality,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to sharing them.”
In addition, WFF is inviting the community to help create its own film project, “We Are Watsonville.” People can submit photographs and/or short videos that represent Watsonville. Participants can also film themselves saying one word that describes what Watsonville means to them, and why.
The completed film, to be compiled by Inspira Studios, will be presented during a kickoff event on March 5.
“We are very excited about this,” Alba said. “There are so many filmmakers in our community, but also, with the technology we all have now on our phones, everyone can take photos and videos. We invite everyone to be creative with us.”
Send submissions to [email protected] or call 831-322-7513. The deadline to submit is Feb. 10. WFF asks people to reach out if they need technical help.
Because this year’s festival will be entirely virtual, organizers have chosen to present it on a professional streaming platform called Eventive, which has been used by festivals across the globe. Alba says the platform will take their event “to the next level.”
“With everything being digital, it was important for us to offer the very best in quality,” she said. “And working closely with filmmakers … we need to be sure to protect their work. This is a big step forward for that.”
In addition to film screenings, the festival will also host virtual Q&A sessions with filmmakers and actors, and hold a number of events. On the final day, WFF is teaming up with the Kuumbwa Jazz Center for “Virtual Fandango,” which will feature a screening of the award-winning documentary “Fandango at the Wall.” The film follows multi-Grammy Award winners Arturo O’Farrill and Kabir Sehgal as they prepare to record a live album at the U.S.–Mexico border wall.
“It’s a wonderful story about how we are all connected, despite everything,” Alba said.
WFF is aiming to offer this year’s festival for free to the community. This is a big deal, Alba said, as the event is normally their biggest fundraiser of the year. They are still looking for a few more sponsors and donors so they can make it happen. Email [email protected] for ways to help.
“We really want to offer this gift to the community,” Alba said.
Alba said she is happy WFF can keep providing films to the community. The festival’s virtual film series last year reached about 10,000 viewers, which she called a “silver lining” of everything going on.
Still, she is eager to return to in-person events when they are safe, especially so that filmmakers like Elizondo can finally visit the community.
“As soon as we can have live events again, Melissa is going to come to Watsonville,” she said. “We can’t wait.”
The full Watsonville Film Festival 2021 program will be announced next week. For more information, visit watsonvillefilmfest.org.