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UCSC Student Film on Watsonville Hits the Big Screen Sunday

Exit 426: Watsonville, produced in an UCSC film seminar, will be screened Sunday at the Santa Cruz Film Festival, which opens Thursday and runs through May 19.

For many UC Santa Cruz students, Watsonville appears to be a tiny agricultural town that they might trek to once or twice for the .

But a new UCSC student-produced documentary airing Sunday at the Santa Cruz Film Festival aims to broaden perspectives. Through day-to-day life vignettes, Exit 426: Watsonville spotlights the diversity and vibrancy of the city -- from the farmers’ market to schools to day laborers.

In an 11-week long spring quarter, Professor Irene Lusztig’s film class broke into two-person teams to capture Watsonville. Most of the 26 students had never been to the city, a 20-minute drive from campus, beforehand.

“They had about three weeks of research time to go there, make calls and meet people,” said Lusztig, who chose the topic as a way of shedding light on the nearby, albeit very different, city than Santa Cruz.  “I assigned the topic, but they could focus on the things they were interested in.”

As the only student in the class who lived in Watsonville, Jesse Lozano saw his city from a different perspective once he got behind the camera.

“Before I saw it as fields and farms,” said Lozano. “But it has a lot more complexity to it that makes it a great little town.”

Lozano focused on daily life at a local senior center and also day laborers. Lozano would not have had access to the latter, he said, if not for his Spanish fluency -- which made the workers feel comfortable opening up to him.

“We looked at what makes up the city and had to push ourselves to get access to those areas,” he said, pointing out that the students continued to return to their subjects to familiarize themselves with them.

“It was shot in an observational way where you can immerse yourself in the space,” said Lozano.

For Ana Lopez, an exchange student from Spain, filming in Watsonville was also a huge eye-opener.

“I hadn’t been there before and thought it was a pretty big contrast,” said Lopez, who followed an editor of the Watsonville Registrar-Pajaronian as he made his daily rounds through town. “There’s so much of a cultural scene. Before I thought it was a mainly agricultural place.”

After four weeks of shooting, the Santa Cruz students compiled over 40 hours of film, which they edited down to 90 minutes for the documentary, she said. The three bilingual students became the translation team, subtitling the one-third to one-half of the film that is in Spanish, said Lusztig.

One of the students in the course is currently in talks with Watsonville theaters to get the film screened there, she added.

The experience demonstrated to Lopez how much can be accomplished in a short amount of time through working in teams on a documentary.

“Now we have a 90-minute documentary,” said Lopez, “instead of a few short vignettes.”

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