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This coming Thursday marks the opening of the 12th Annual Watsonville Film Festival, a three-day long event filled with screenings by and about Latine filmmakers – as well as a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the film La Mission.  The festival, which started as a grassroots collective dedicated to sharing narratives from the Watsonville community, is the only event located between LA and the Bay Area dedicated to stories told primarily from Latine and indigenous perspectives.

The festival presents a powerful selection of more than 40 films that challenge stereotypes and reflect the diversity within the Latine experience – from drag queens reading at a story hour to an indigenous opera singer from Oaxaca.  Ultimately, the festival emphasizes fostering more opportunities for local Latine story tellers and providing a space where artists, filmmakers, and students can share and promote their works, and continue to grow their mission to present Latine filmmakers, empower local youth, and promote economic and cultural development.   

This year’s Festival showcases short films directed by local, national, and international filmmakers. The centerpiece film is La Mission, starring Erika Alexander (American Fiction) and Benjamin Bratt (Law & Order), and is centered around a Lowrider leader in San Francisco struggling to come to terms with his son’s sexuality.  

La Mission was directed by Peter Bratt, the award-winning director of Dolores, a historical documentary film about the legendary farmworker and civil rights leader, Dolores Huerta.  Bratt, who graduated from UCSC in 1986 with a degree in Politics, will be honored at the Watsonville Film Festival on Saturday, March 9.  Outside of his work on the film, Bratt is a Rockefeller Fellow, a recipient of the Peabody Award, and a community organizer and social justice activist.  Last year, Bratt was named the honoree of UC Santa Cruz’s 2023 Social Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award, an annual award which “recognizes a graduate whose career is characterized by sustained and exemplary contributions to society through research, practice, education, policy, or service.”

Doors open at 5:30pm at Cinelux Green Valley Cinema, 1125 S. Green Valley Rd. in Watsonville with a Red Carpet photo op. Following the film, there will be a Q&A led by Dr. Alberto Lopez Pulido, a renowned Lowrider author and filmmaker from the University of San Diego, Peter Bratt and Roberto Hernandez, President of the San Francisco Lowrider Council. Hernandez and other Lowrider leaders around the state lobbied hard to overturn California’s previous ban on cruising. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill lifting the prohibition, which had made cruising a crime until the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

The Watsonville Film Festival recently received one of 14 California Humanities grants to shine a light on how Lowrider culture symbolizes pride and what they like to call “Art on wheels.” WFF Humanities advisor, Dr. Pulido will be driving the “Barrio Bus,” a mural-covered classroom on wheels from San Diego to participate in the March 7-10 festivities and visit local schools promoting art activities and what Professor Pulido calls, “Chicano ingenuity” inspired by Lowriders. 

The Watsonville Film Festival has partnered with Pajaro Valley Arts to create the exhibit “More than Cars: Celebrating Lowrider Culture” at the Porter Building, 280 Main St. Five local Lowrider clubs and more than 50 artists contributed to the exhibit which will be free and open to the public until June 30th. The opening reception on Sunday, March 10 will be from 1-4pm with live music and a car show following by cruising from 4-6pm.  

More information and updates can be found at @watsonvillefilmfest on Instagram.