Poppy Jasper Film Festival sets scene for success

Joe Estevez

The Friday night opening ceremony for the 7th annual Poppy
Jasper Film Festival packed theater No. 2 at CineLux Theater.
Hollywood has betrayed us. The days of “Casablanca,” “Gone With the Wind” and “Ben-Hur” are gone.

“Hollywood has said children be damned, family be damned, morals be damned,” Joe Estevez said leaning in toward me from a high-back wicker chair inside an empty store in Tennant Station Friday night. Wine flowed at the after-party and the volume of a live band kept us close.

He has all but rejected the eye candy of million-dollar blockbusters. Estevez couldn’t remember the last time he saw a mainstream movie.

“Where have the real artists gone?” he asked. Easy. They’ve come to Morgan Hill.

The Friday night opening ceremony for the 7th annual Poppy Jasper Film Festival packed theater No. 2 at CineLux Theater. Estevez, most famous for narrating segments of 1979’s “Apocalypse Now”, gave the keynote speech.

Estevez’s voice made the answer to “How do you like Morgan Hill?” sound monumental. Was our interview being filmed? Every tone inflection felt methodical. And to my ears, his candor was identical to “Apocalypse Now”. His voice untarnished by the dozens of background conversations floating around us.

“Morgan Hill is just a beautiful town,” he told me. “You forget towns like this still exist. It’s nearly a paradise.”

He’s acted in more than 150 films and directed some independent works; though he said he loves acting more. In an hour, Estevez covered his sobriety, spirituality and told some of the corniest jokes not really worth repeating.

He advised the audience, many of whom are filmmakers or aspiring students like Ashley Peterson, to realize that film is the world’s universal language. It should be used to do something good, not exploited to make a buck, Estevez said.

“It’s been really fabulous,” Peterson, 24, said. She made a special trip to her hometown – Peterson graduated from Live Oak in 2005 – from Cal State Long Beach where she studies film.

“I walked right up to (Estevez) and asked for advice. I loved what he said about purpose and about how filmmaking chooses you, you don’t choose it,” she said. Peterson’s goal is be a producer and an actor.

“If you really have something to say, you will find a way to say it,” Estevez, 60, told the theater. Estevez has been an actor since high school after he “got the lead and a bunch of girlfriends” but worked professionally since 1974. His brother is actor Martin Sheen and he is uncle to Emilo Estevez and Charlie Sheen. Though he wasn’t shy about how he perceives his generation.

“Baby boomers haven’t left this generation much. It’s not as good as we found it,” Estevez said.

“Think big,” he said. “Film is the most powerful medium in the world. Make sure you are a force for good.”

Estevez’s advice isn’t a far cry from the Poppy Jasper Film Festival’s purpose in Morgan Hill: spread good cinema and help aspiring filmmakers.

The three-day film festival that showcases independent filmmakers from around the world has evolved since the first in 2004. It began as a project of the Media Access Coalition of Central California as a fundraiser to support Morgan Hill’s public access television station, MHAT-19 but since merged with the Poppy Jasper Film Festival nonprofit organization. The nonprofit provides scholarships to student filmmakers. They plan to expand the festival and its scholarship purse.

“We want this to be the Sundance of short films,” MHAT volunteer Marty Cheek said. “We want to keep our warm Morgan Hill style of being friendly to people and not make it commercial. The festival has a beautiful spirit and it’s been about celebrating cinema and about making friends, too and making connections.”

This year with its biggest name, Estevez, in town and Luis Valdez joining in for a special conversation Saturday night, the festival attracted hundreds to its screenings, workshops and after-parties.

Cheek said attendees of “An Evening with Luis Valdez” – who wrote and directed 1987’s “La Bamba” – didn’t want the conversation to end.

“If this were a place that specializes in short films that would be beautiful for the community,” Cheek said.

Co-chair Bob Snow said interest in the festival has grown since seven years ago when it sprouted from an idea to a full-blown event. This year, more than 90 films were submitted by filmmakers around the world.

“I think it was a really good success. A lot of people enjoyed the films and the guest speakers said they enjoyed themselves,” Snow said. “People said that they like it being in Morgan Hill, because there are film-goers here to just enjoy the films. Other festivals, everyone’s looking to make a deal, like going to a pitch party. This is about film.”