The Lopezes.
Esteban Lopez, 16, (left) and Julian Lopez, 17, who both attend Watsonville High, in front of the camera of Diego Lopez, 19, who attends Cabrillo College.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
City Life

Voices from the ‘Ville: Young filmmakers form their own highlight reel at Watsonville Film Festival

Are you a young person looking to get some experience in filmmaking? Here’s a pro tip to get you started:

Grow up in Watsonville.

A handful of young people in Watsonville have gotten a head start on the way to careers as filmmakers thanks largely to two enormously helpful programs that, to put it mildly, not many towns its size can boast.

They are DigitalNEST and the Watsonville Film Festival, the former a program designed to get the both the tools of the know-how of technology into the hands of young people, and the latter a community platform that is committed to showcasing the work of talented locals.

The WFF is poised to kick off its 2021 festival — an all-virtual affair — on Friday, March 5, presenting a variety of multicultural films online for free, through March 13.

Right there in the master list of the festival’s artist-contributors are two young Watsonville-based filmmakers, both products of DigitalNEST and both cultivated and encouraged by the WFF.

Angie Rockey, an 18-year-old Watsonville High School student, will debut her documentary short titled “Disconnected,” while Diego Lopez, a 19-year-old Cabrillo College student, is set to unveil the narrative fiction film he created with his two brothers titled “The Sound of Water.” Both are part of the WFF’s Youth Films

Angie Rockey in Alone
Angie Rockey
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

As its title suggests, Rockey’s documentary is a meditation on the experience of trying to get an education during the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea first came to her last fall from an assignment she received as part of an internship at DigitalNEST. She interviewed a college-student friend and used her own experience as a high-school student to create a kind of day-in-the-life chronicle of pandemic schooling.

“I got a lot of B-roll of the schools we attended,” she said, “the footage of them now empty I thought would be very impactful.”

“Disconnected” is not Rockey’s first foray into filmmaking. She had also produced a narrative fiction film titled “Alone,” in which she used the relatively empty streets of Santa Cruz County shortly after the pandemic shutdown to create a post-apocalyptic story of a young woman trying to figure out if she’s the only one left alive after a catastrophic event. The film was presented in 2020 by the WFF’s “Chicas in Cinema” program of short film.

How to watch

In the wake of “Alone” and “Disconnected,” Rockey plans to attend the celebrated film program at the University of Southern California in the fall. Both of her Watsonville Film Festival short films will, she said, endure as a kind of testament to a unique time in American history.

“When things go back to normal, or as normal as they can be, it’ll be cool to have something to reflect back on and remember the times before.”
Diego Lopez first began volunteering at the Watsonville Film Festival as a high schooler back in 2016.

It was there the young man met Jacob Martinez, the founder of DigitalNEST who encouraged him to investigate the program there. Lopez said that DigitalNEST taught him not only the basics of film technology, but how to write a screenplay as well.

Esteban Lopez.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Lopez is now on the verge of debuting his short film in the same film festival where he once volunteered. “The Sound of Water” is a 8-minute narrative-fiction film that Lopez made with his younger brothers Julian and Esteban.

The film is a story of a young man (Esteban) who loses his older brother (Julian) but is haunted by his brother’s voice and likeness emerging from bodies of water.

“With the quarantine,” said Lopez of the genesis of the idea, “people are losing loved ones and many of them can’t accept that the person is gone, and still sees them and hears them.”

The film was shot over the course of a week at various locations around Santa Cruz County, from Mount Madonna to the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. It is at the end of the wharf where the film’s critical scene was shot, of the protagonist scattering his brother’s ashes in the ocean.

Diego Lopez.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Lopez, who both directed the film and plays a small role in it, said he rushed his brothers to the wharf to take advantage of “golden-hour” lighting in the late afternoon. Still, he was only able to do one take, because they didn’t have enough ashes to do more than that.

“We had one shot at this,” he said. “So I said, we’ve got to do this. Ignore everyone around, and let’s make this Oscar-worthy.

The Watsonville Film Festival takes place March 5 through March 13. Lookout is the exclusive media partner of the event.