The Poppy Jasper International Film Festival takes place in Northern California from April 7 through April 20. Like many festivals, due to COVID-19, the festival is being offered online as well as in person in Morgan Hill and Gilroy, California. The festival celebrates independent film, offering selections from the local area as well as throughout the globe.
I’ll be looking at highlights from the festival for the next two weeks, beginning with a look today at the first two days of the festival, which celebrated students and local filmmakers.
The first day of the PJIFF highlighted student films, offering three groups of films (College: Consequential Situations, College: Sweet and Tart, and High School and Youth entries). There were 24 total films screened in the virtual screening, including documentaries and scripted features, many of which dealt with difficult subjects. Here’s a few of the highlights from the groups.
My favorite film of the day was And Now, a German musical from Martin Linzer. This one felt a lot like La La Land in its style and execution. It’s a musical exploration of a young man, Martin (Lukas Keuchel), who has graduated and now is trying to decide what to do next. He meets a singer named Mel (Leonie Landa), and they inspire each other to follow their dreams. This had beautiful numbers and choreography, and incredible look.
Other highlights from the college group included a documentary Philadelphia Iran Afghanistan, which comes from filmmaker Zardosht Afshari, an Iranian, who discusses his journey to Philadelphia and struggles with isolation and missing his home country. The film features beautiful shots of the city and an easy pace. You feel the emotion of his isolation and longing for home. He meets a worker from Afghanistan, hoping to find a friend to discuss their home and experiences, but it never comes to fruition. You feel the loneliness and isolation. America is a place of dreams, but for many who give up everything to come here, it can be a difficult experience as well.
Another highlight was the short Shattered. This Germany film a police officer is enjoying a routine night when a domestic call results in him having to fire on the offender. Shaken, the film captures the event and the immediate aftermath as the officer deals with having to shoot someone. As the lead, Johannes Zeiler does a beautiful job conveying the emotions of the moment, and this one has a tragic twist regarding the suspect. I thought Director Torben Liebrecht delivered a powerful film in a tight, compact frame.
Finally, among the college group, I was taken with Day Release. This Austrian film follows a young mother (Anna Suk) on day release who goes to see her son, finding him in a horrific situation. She’s forced into action, trying to find a better place for her child before having to return to jail. Director Martin Winter creates a powerful story of a woman who feels hopeless, and Suk delivers a good performance. Her expressive eyes are, at times, haunting as she wrestles with a number of choices, all of them bleak, as she tries to provide a future for her son while seeing her own slipping away.
Among the high school films, the biggest stand out was A Good Day. This short from Sierra Anne and Nicole Murphy is an homage to Charlie Chaplin films. It’s a black and white silent short that re-imagines The Tramp as a girl (Sierra Anne). It’s fun and a great homage.
Local Filmmakers Day
The second day highlighted films from California filmmakers in three regions—The Bay Area, South Bay Area and Southern California. In all 26 films were part of the package, including documentaries and scripted films with varying subjects. Below are a few of the highlights.
The first film that caught my eye was Losing Game, a short from Southern California. This short from Natalie Britton featured a woman (Kate Hamilton) trying to make it through her day as if it was a video game. The music and cues made it fun and this was a unique twist. The soundtrack and look treated day-to-day life like a game of Mario, and it worked.
Another Southern California film that I found interesting was All The Wrong Things. This film, written and directed by Chelsea Gonzales, focuses on a young woman (Candace Hammer), distraught over having just had an abortion, and the compassionate stranger (Bernardo Cubria) who tries to cheer her up. It’s a unique set up, but the performances and flow work. Cubria gives an interesting performance and helps make this set up work.
Finally, among the South Bay collection, I enjoyed the documentary short In the Land of My Ancestors. This documentary short from Rucha Chitnis features interviews with Native American advocate Ann Marie Sayers, who shares the history and culture of the native people. An interesting picture into this cultural group.
In the next installment I’ll look at highlights from Women’s Day, China Day and Mexico Day. For more on this year’s festival, visit http://www.pjiff.org.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.