(Ashley Solis stars in the documentary film “Ashley’s Story,” which follows the teenager, who works at night in Watsonville’s strawberry fields, on her quest to graduate and attend college. Contributed photo)

WATSONVILLE — Local independent filmmaker Emily Cohen Ibañez and her team have recently launched an online crowdfunding campaign in order to garner support for their latest documentary film “Ashley’s Story.”

Set in Watsonville, “Ashley’s Story” follows Mexican-American teenager Ashley Solis, a strawberry picker and food justice activist, who dreams of being the first in her family to graduate high school and attend college.

“It’s very much a universal coming-of-age story,” Ibañez said. “I’ve met so many young people who say they can really relate to Ashley.’”

After moving to New York for many years, Ibañez eventually made her way back to California, teaching at UC Santa Cruz and got involved with the Community Agro-ecology Network.

She then met Solis and her family. After interviewing the teen in November 2017, Ibañez saw an opportunity to continue working with her and expanding the project into a film.

“She’s an extraordinary young woman,” Ibañez said. “Her drive, her passion — I knew that would connect with people emotionally.”

Ibañez expressed her belief that stories like Solis’ are incredibly important in today’s political climate, especially the differing opinions on immigration.

“It gives people a better understanding of what it feels like to be a first-generation American,” she said. “It touches upon topics that affect people in Watsonville, nationwide, and even globally.”

So far, Ibañez and her team have reached 37 percent of their fundraising goal on their Seed and Spark crowdfunding page. The funds will help with everything from paying the film’s crew to equipment rental, Ibañez said.

“The longtime goal is to produce a short film that can spread widely before the next midterm election,” she said, “and then a longer film sometime down the line.”

The Watsonville Film Festival has joined forces with Ibañez and her team to promote the film.

“Watsonville is becoming a place for cinematic innovation,” said festival director Consuelo Alba. “We are excited to support ‘Ashley’s Story’ and grow our film community and production.”

Lilia’s Fashion in downtown Watsonville and Taqueria Los Pericos in Santa Cruz have also aided in fundraising efforts. Both businesses held fundraising campaigns this past week.

“I feel really lucky to have such a beautiful, supportive community here in Santa Cruz County backing this project,” Ibañez said.

To support “Ashley’s Story,” visit seedandspark.com/fund/ashleys-story-documentary. For information on Ibañez, visit emilycohenibanez.com.

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