Juan Fuentes

Juan Fuentes, a Watsonville artist who worked as a strawberry picker as a child.

It’s the second year the Watsonville Film Festival (March 3-12) is extending its tentacles to Seaside, specifically Palenke Arts, with whom it shares many values and “mutual respect,” says Consuelo Alba, one of the festival's co-founders.

Juan Sánchez of Palenke Arts, a Seaside nonprofit devoted to educating the community through arts, added he is determined to bring the festival to the young filmmakers on the Monterey Peninsula, and that he hopes soon Palenke will be offering filmmaking classes, fostering even more local talents. 

From the 40 films that are being shown within the eleventh edition of the bigger-than-ever festival, the organizers chose two to be screened in Seaside on the final day of the festival. Initially, the location was supposed to be at Palenke's headquarters at Martin Luther King, Jr. School of the Arts, but due to great interest in the community, the event was moved to Oldemeyer Center on Hilby Avenue.

The screening will take place the same night as the Oscars, but Sánchez already knows many families are planning to come. One of the films is Strawberry Picker, a 20-minute portrait of Watsonville-native and artist Juan Fuentes.

“We are introducing this incredible artist to his own community,” Alba says. “This is a very important story for our community.”

Fuentes went to Watsonville High, then went to study art and made iconic posters for various civic movements, Alba says. Featured at the Library of Congress and at the Smithsonian, he remained pretty much invisible to his own community. Now his 6-story pieces are among the growing amount of public art now on display in Watsonville. Fuentes is a chief creator of the images of Watsonville Brillante, the massive mosaic murals sprawled across the parking structure on Rodriguez Street.

“It’s about showing children the power of art, the power of being themselves,” Alba says. “Remembering where they are from.” 

“We want to break stereotypes about communities,” Sánchez says. “To create more spaces for your artists to bloom.”

The second movie to be screened in Seaside is Stir the Heart, a short film about a small community in Mexico City that recovers after a massive earthquake. A group of artists arrives and slowly traumatized children start to express themselves and hear through poetry, painting and mural making. 

“It’s incredible how much children have in their hearts,” Alba says. It was her own movie, Healer (2010), among others, that created the Watsonville Film Festival in 2011.

“We needed a space for local movies,” she says. It was her husband, John Alba, who came up with the name. “This year’s program is incredible.”

Most events take place at the Henry J. Mello Center for the Performing Arts at Watsonville High School or the Watsonville Public Library. The organizers are flying director Carlos Perez Osorio in from Mexico for the screening of his film Los Tigres Del Norte: Stories to Tell (2022). The feature-length documentary produced and distributed by Prime Video is telling the story of the legendary Mexican band, starting from their humble beginnings and to some of the biggest stages in the world. As it turns out, their story is all about family. 

For those who can’t make it in person, over 20 films are available to be streamed online.

4-6pm Sunday, March 12. Palenke Arts. Oldemeyer Center, 986 Hilby Ave. Seaside. The Watsonville Film Festival in-person/online screenings and special events begin March 3 and run through March 12. Free (donations appreciated). watsonvillefilmfest.org.

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