The Watsonville Film Festival is screening "To Stir the Heart" by Mexican director Melissa Elizondo. —courtesy Watsonville Film Festival

WATSONVILLE—When Covid-19 shelter-in-place restrictions hit Santa Cruz County in March, the Eighth Annual Watsonville Film Festival (WFF) was one of the first large events to be shut down.

Executive Director Consuelo Alba and her team were forced to cancel the multiple film screenings, activities and presentations. Alba’s first call was to Melissa Elizondo, director of the documentary “To Stir the Heart.” Elizondo was close to boarding the plane from Mexico City for her appearance in Watsonville when she received the bad news. 

“It was devastating,” Alba said. “She’s a very talented filmmaker. We were eager to show our community her beautiful film.”

Since the cancelation of the festival, the organization has been finding ways to present its films in a safe manner. The Virtual Watsonville Film Festival launched in May with the help of Digital NEST, offering people free online film screenings and live discussions with filmmakers via Zoom. This week, WFF offered “To Stir the Heart,” including a Q&A with Elizondo on Thursday.

Now WFF is taking things a step further. Together with the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, the organization is kicking off a series of free outdoor film screenings at Abbott Square in Santa Cruz. “To Stir the Heart” will be screened Saturday at 8pm. 

The film follows a group of children in San Gregorio Atlapulco, Xochimilco who are recovering from Mexico’s devastating Sept. 19, 2017 earthquake. The children in the film “channel their trauma” through art and poetry.

“I think it’s now more relevant than ever,” Alba said. “We are all going through a lot of trauma… it can be hard to find a silver lining. The movie is a beautiful example of the power of art and community.”

Saturday’s film screening at Abbott Square, 118 Cooper St., is limited to 100 guests. Social distancing and other Covid-19 safety protocols will be implemented. Organizers recommend arriving early to secure a spot.

“The MAH is thrilled to be partnering with [WFF] to share their festival offerings,” said Exhibitions & Project Manager Whitney Ford-Terry. “They have such a rich program that aligns so well with our vision here at the MAH. We’re excited to be able to extend their rich online program out into the world during this challenging time for theaters.”

In addition to Saturday’s event, WFF is preparing for a special screening next week. The documentary “We Are the Radial Monarchs” will be available to watch free on their website on Wednesday night at 6pm.

The film, which has won numerous awards at festivals across North America, documents the Radical Monarchs—an alternative to the Scout movement for girls of color based in Oakland, CA. The girls earn badges for completing units on social justice, such as being an LGBTQ+ ally and environmental issues.

Alba said that securing the rights to the film was a challenge, and the reason why it will only be available for 24 hours.

“It’s a bit tricky,” Alba admitted. “But we are thankful to have gotten it at all. This is an incredibly important film.”

On Thursday a virtual Q&A will be held with director Linda Goldstein Knowlton and Co-Founders of the Radical Monarchs, Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest.

WFF is also in the process of moving its Annual Celebration of Day of the Dead to a mostly-virtual format. The organization has already held a themed design contest and is looking for ways to adapt other aspects of the event.

“It’s an ambitious project,” Alba said. “How can we translate everything we normally do in the plaza to a computer screen? But we are figuring things out.”

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


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