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The Indie Film Group recently had the opportunity to interview Juan Carlos Oseguera, the Writer/Director of the award winning documentary The Fight for Water: A Farm Worker Struggle. A documentary that explores the politics and policies of water management, as well as the struggles of the workers and farmers who rely on this essential life ingredient.
(IFG) Tell us a little about Juan Carlos Oseguera. Where were you born and raised? What did your family do for a living?
I was born in Mexico but was raised here, in the United States and, specifically, in the California Central Valley.
I came here when I was seven years old and grew up in a small town composed of an agricultural community. My parents worked in the fields, but later moved on to food-production work.
My first job, actually, was working in the fields too, when I was 15 and 16 years old. But I knew that working in the fields was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. That is a hard life; getting up at 4:30 or 5:00 am and being in the heat for most of the day. Two summers I did that, and it really taught me what it takes to do the hard work that most of us don’t want to do. But it also taught me to focus on school. Those were my choices: field work or school.
I chose school of course and applied myself to it. Upon graduating from high school, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do yet, but I knew that I wanted to do something that was fulfilling for me. So I ended up taking courses in videography and filmmaking at a community college that offered such courses.
As a kid I sure watched a lot of TV and movies. So TV and movies became my life and I thought, I want to do that.
(IFG) So tell us a little about The Fight for Water: A Farm Worker Struggle. What made you decide to do a documentary on the subject?
The documentary deals with the outcome of a water or environmental decision that was put in place by a federal judge, which held back water in order to protect an endangered species. When that happened, it devastated the community, which needed that water for jobs in the region.
The documentary focuses on the aftermath of this decision and how a community came together to pressure the federal government to change this decision, because of humanitarian concerns.
It wasn’t until I saw this happening that I decided this would be an interesting subject to film, and also because it affected my community. And I, myself, come from a farm working community.
(IFG) What inspired you to get into film making? What’s next for you?
As a kid, I always loved watching TV. That was my only outlet. My parents couldn’t afford to take me to the movies. So, back in the 80’s, before the VHS, I eagerly awaited the Sunday night movie on network TV. When VHS came along, and which was more affordable to rent, I didn’t have to wait to long to watch the next blockbuster.
I loved the big block buster movies of the 80’s. Superman, Star Wars, Alien/Aliens, Terminator and all those. Those were my inspiration. I thought, when I grow up, I want to do those kind of films.
I was so inspired by the notion of filmmaking that I enrolled at a community college and started writing, producing and directing my own short films.
But, the big change for me was film school at San Francisco State. I had never seen humanistic films. Films with social issues, that tug to the heart. And then that is when I said, I want to do those kind of films.
I’m inspired by all types of films, either by convention or by technique. Even animation, like Pixar films. I find them fascinating as well.
So, I want to continue expanding on that and work on films that not only entertain, but also have something humanistic in them. I find those inspiring.
As for what is next, I am contemplating a few ideas based on that concept. I really don’t know yet what I will be focusing on next, because I need to be really inspired, and I want to do something that is meaningful… for everyone to see, not just for me.
In The Fight for Water, I took people on a journey, trying to learn this water issue, and that is what I found interesting. Exploring something I didn’t know, and telling people about it. And they are discovering it, as I am, during the film. How it all effects us. So I hope my next project is like that.
(IFG) Did you have any impossible shots in filming The Fight For Water?
Actually there was a lot of shots that I wish I could have done or could have gotten, but because of time and my budget, I couldn’t afford it or manage it.
I sure wanted cool looking aerial shots; fly bys, which would capture the scope and magnitude of the event. But I had to be practical and keep it basic–grounded–in reality and work with what I have.
The film was just spontaneous work. No plans set or that it would be a full length documentary. So maybe if I had gone too technical or glossy or elaborate, it would not have worked as well.
In the end I got video footage and pictures, courtesy of farmers, community people, water agencies and organizations who took part in it. They were willing to share and because of it, I think, it made the film more meaningful to so many people. So I am always thankful for that; to those who helped and made it possible.
(IFG) How long did it take for you to complete the film?
All together it took me about three years to shoot and edit.
I started filming in 2009 and continued for a year or so filming here and there interviews, while at the same time I was editing. Over twenty hours of footage that were edited to an hour and 20 minutes. And that was after a rough cut of almost two hours long also. It needed to be concise and focused and I think the cut that is now does just that.
(IFG) Was there ever a moment when you thought, “Maybe this isn’t worth it?” If so, how did you overcome that obstacle as a film maker?
Oh, yes. There were actually three moments.
The first was when I contemplated on the idea of making a film about “water”. I thought, what’s the big deal about water and how much can you talk about water without boring someone? But I decided, just of curiosity, that it couldn’t hurt to go out there and film a water march that was happening in the community–in which a Hollywood celebrity, Paul Rodriguez, was coming down to support marchers on their cause. And man, was I surprised. There was so much passion from the marchers, who were being affected by the lack of water, and I was so surprised on how little I knew about the intricacies of water regulations, policies and the politics of it.
The second time I had doubts of whether I was actually going to get it done, which was more of an obstacle, came when I couldn’t find farmers who would actually talk on camera; without their voice, the documentary could not come together effectively.
I sent out emails to water agencies, water districts, and even friends who could direct me to willing farmers. But I had gotten backlash, as they were apprehensive of the media. It was a very political issue (and it still is). So, I was just running out of luck.
But finally, almost a year later, when I had lost hope, two farms (Joe Del Bosque and George Delgado) came and agreed to sit down and talk about the issue, as it was affecting them. And to my surprise, they were Latino farmers! They had similar backgrounds, and they really put the issue into perspective, I think.
However, a few months later, I got ill and had to take time off from everything, including finishing the film, which was about 75% done. It would literally take me another year before I would get back to it. But by that time, because of my health, I didn’t know if it was worth it anymore.
Time had passed, but the water issue became worse. So I am thankful I had the support of family and great friends, in particular one (my girlfriend at the time) who helped through those hard times–to heal and to push me to finish what I had started.
It could not just sit there half way done because people needed to see it. So I pushed myself to get it done.
(IFG) The film has played numerous festivals around the circuit. Where can we see your film now?
Yes, the documentary premiered in late 2012 and from there it hit the festival circuit all 2013 and 2014. Not only at film festivals but special screenings throughout California, other states and other countries. The last screening was in Colorado, as organizations have continued to hold special screenings for their communities.
Now people can find it on DVD through online stores such as Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and Best Buy among others. That had been my ultimate goal to have it available everywhere. So that educators also can use it as a learning tool on so many issues. And hopefully soon, it should be streaming online as well.
(IFG) Can you share with us an example of humanity at its best, that you discovered while filming The Fight For Water?
People coming together for a common cause–that is the best example of humanity that I discovered while filming the documentary. And it is evident throughout the documentary.
All sorts of people, from all walks of life (farmers, farm workers, local business people, families, students, school officials, local and state politicians, celebrities and many others) came together that day in April of 2009 to address the water crisis in the California Central Valley.
It looked like a scene of the 1960 and 70’s when people took to the streets and marched; at a time when there was a lot of political activism and frustration. Many marched 50 miles, within a time frame of four days–from Mendota, California to the San Luis Reservoir–where then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would greet them at a rally, as a show of solidarity on the issue.
That is something I had not seen and/or experienced and now its captured in film as a historical account on the subject. So in the end, the documentary is really about people in the middle of a crisis. I hope everyone gets a chance to see it, because we are directly and indirectly affected by water.
Check out the trailer for The Fight for Water: A Farm Worker Struggle below!