By Lani Conway
Arts Reporter

The Reel Work 2008 Film Festival is anything but ordinary — it’s far from an occasion for film buffs and celebrities to give each other gratuitous pats on the back. Its films demand action, inspire change and command viewers to work toward a collective cause in the spirit of May Day.

“This festival is unique in that it combines filmmakers and filmmaking with activism,” said Pedro Joel Espinosa, a student organizer at UC Santa Cruz. “Everywhere else, [May Day] is celebrated as International Worker’s Day except in the United States…We have an official holiday here in the U.S., Labor Day, but it’s so distant from May Day. We aren’t going to settle for what the U.S. considers or doesn’t consider a day to celebrate worker’s rights because we want to be in solidarity with the rest of the world.”

The seventh annual Reel Work Film Festival insists on just that.

Between April 25 and May 11, 12 venues scattered throughout Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and Monterey County will amass filmmakers, labor activists, organizers, students and volunteers. The films screened will address current labor, racial and economic injustices, and immigration issues.

Organizers will show big-name films such as “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song” and “Made in L.A.” as well as many others.

“It’s really important to come together because there are a lot of intersections that happen,” Espinosa said. “We’re talking about the labor struggle, but within the labor struggle there are immigrant’s rights, worker’s rights and overall human civil rights that all intersect in the end. It is important for organizers to come together and push for a certain goal or objective.”

With film as its medium, the objective of the festival is clear.

“The goal is to promote labor awareness and labor activism,” said Paul Ortiz, Reel Work organizer and associate professor of community studies at UCSC. “Yet the overarching themes of the film festival are these incredible lessons we learn as individuals on how we should organize collectively to deal with these problems.”

Ortiz, who also works closely with UCSC student organizers and social documentation graduate student filmmakers, stresses the role film plays in educating audiences about labor rights issues and in making a statement against current media practices.

“The films really do much better now, especially the student films,” Ortiz said. “We’ve always encouraged students to become filmmakers with the goal of trying to help people who want to take control of the media for themselves, so the media isn’t just this corporate PR machine. People can use the media as a tool for activism.”

As part of the film festival, student films will be screened on April 30 at Kresge Town Hall. Films to be shown include “Overcoming Adversity,” “Bad About Being Korean,” and “Together We’re Stronger,” all of which effectively present labor and immigrant rights issues on a personal and humanized level.

“Activism is the reason why I’m doing this film,” third-year Claire Harbage said. “I can connect with other people.”

Harbage’s film “Together We’re Stronger” chronicles the personal lives of three UCSC workers and their work with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to better their employment contracts.

Kresge Night will also include performances by Rainbow Theater and Slam Team, as well as a panel discussion featuring filmmakers and AFSCME workers.

“One thing we want to come out of Kresge Night is for students who do come to the festival to leave thinking that they have an outlet to get involved in these types of issues,” said Becca Gourevitch, coordinator of student organizers. “It’s not just about showing films and walking away.”

The Reel Work Film Festival’s filmmakers and activists turn the passive into the active, making it difficult not to pursue change. All of this, as Gourevitch said, is because “we have people power.”

_The Reel Work 2008 Film Festival runs April 25 to May 11. Kresge Town Hall will host the film festival April 30. Preparation for the May Day March will begin at 5:30 p.m., doors open at 6:30. Screenings run from 7 to 10 p.m. All events are free. For more information on the film festival and schedule, visit