The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday observed across the globe every year in which families honor their deceased relatives with food, drink and various celebrations.
For the past few years, the Watsonville Film Festival (WFF) has organized a special community Day of the Dead celebration in the City Plaza, complete with music, food, altars, arts and crafts and an outdoor screening of the Disney/Pixar film “Coco.”
But with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the organization has had to switch gears.
“We knew we had to find a way to celebrate any way we could,” said Consuelo Alba, executive director of WFF. “Everything is different in 2020, but the beautiful Día de Muertos traditions must continue.”
“Fiesta Virtual de Día de Muertos,” organized by WFF, Pajaro Valley Arts (PVA) and Mariposa Arts, will kick off Oct. 28 with five days of online activities, including screenings of both locally produced shorts and other films, virtual music and dance performances, poetry, panels and discussions, and hands-on tutorials.
Everything will stream free online.
“We have been working very hard behind-the-scenes on this program. It’s important, especially now, to highlight the incredible talented and creativity in this community,” Alba said.
On Oct. 16, local artist Venessa Ledesma and her son were at PVA on Sudden Street filming bilingual tutorials on sugar skull-themed face painting and constructing paper marigolds, flowers traditionally used on Day of the Dead altars, or “ofrendas.”
Ledesma’s painting tutorial offers two options: A full-coverage meant for when you are with your shelter-in-place family, and another half-coverage for when you are in public wearing a face mask.
“I really enjoy doing it, seeing the transformation of little kids into little sugar skulls,” she said. “And it’s fun to see them excited about it… It helps them feel connected to the culture.”
In addition to the virtual activity lineup, WFF has also created an official “Fiesta Virtual de Día de Muertos” Coloring & Art Activity Book, with support from PVA. Ten local artists are featured in the 28-page book, which in addition to black and white pieces you can color, also includes word searches, history and writing activities.
“[The book] really was a community effort,” Alba said. “We are very excited for people to see it.”
Families can purchase the book, as well as gift one to a local farmworker family, by visiting watsonvillefilmfest.org/amigos. All proceeds will support the organization.
The Watsonville Film Festival also invites families to take photographs of their own Day of the Dead ofrendas, face paint and outfits. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org by Oct. 26 and they will be shared during a special virtual event Nov. 1, which will also include a dance performance by Watsonville’s own folkloric dance group, Esperanza del Valle.
“Fiesta de Día de Muertos” coincides with PVA’s annual art exhibition “Mi Casa es Tu Casa,” which also opens Oct. 28.
“[It] was all about creative synergy,” said PVA Board Treasurer Judy Stabile. “While the formats have changed, ‘Fiesta de Día de Muertos’ and ‘Mi Casa es Tu Casa’ will, as in the past, be joyful celebrations of community.”
Ledesma said that finding ways to celebrate Day of the Dead during the pandemic is important, not only as a way to stay connected to living family members, but also with those who have passed.
“It can remind people of the struggles of our ancestors, what they went through… and appreciate what we do have,” she said. “And seeing it all through such a beautiful, colorful celebration… it’s very meaningful.”
Fiesta Virtual de Día de Muertos 2020
Live virtual events:
Oct. 28: Live Calaca painting class with Gilroy-based artist Nacho Moya.
Oct. 29: Day of the Dead poetry featuring internationally-renowned poet Lucha Corpi, local author Adela Najarro and Los Escritores del Nuevo Sol/Writers of the New Sun from Sacramento. Hosted by Najarro and fellow Cabrillo College instructor Shirley Flores-Munoz, and PVA.
Oct. 30: Mi Casa Es Tu Casa Panel: Conversation about the upcoming Day of the Dead exhibition presented by PVA, focusing on the film “Common Ground.” Guests include Carmina Eliason, artists Lucien Kubo and Judy Stabile.
Oct. 31: Panel with Esperanza del Valle: Celebrating their 40th Anniversary, Director Janet Johns and dancers reflect on their history of celebrating dance and culture in Watsonville.
Nov. 1: A celebration with music and dance, including a special dance performance by Esperanza del Valle, songs by local musicians, and short videos made by filmmakers featuring the intimate process of creating ofrendas for loved ones.
Films: Two locally made films (“Macaria” and “Common Ground”), an award-winning film from Mexico (“Music for the Ultimate Dream”), a documentary (“Artbound: Day of the Dead”), and some animated films will be free to view.
Coloring & Art Activity Book: A 28-page bilingual book featuring artwork by Trinidad Castro, Kathleen Crocetti, Paul De Worken, Juan Fuentes, Ome Garcia, Rosa Hernández, Nessa Ledesma, Cindy Nalleli Rodríguez, Augie WK and Gerardo Zambrano.
Community Engagement: Families are invited to take photographs of their home celebrations and send them to the WFF team by Oct. 26. They will be shared during the special celebration on Nov. 1.