The Fight for Water
As a son of migrant farm workers from Mexico, Juan Oseguera (B.A., ’99) attended a march for water in the drought-stricken Central Valley town of Mendota six years ago thinking his footage might make a good YouTube video. But when he saw the crowds of unemployed farm workers and their hungry families, he knew he had a bigger story.
“People were so passionate, and hearing from them and their frustrations, and that it was politics causing this, I was surprised and started doing research,” says Oseguera. His hour-long documentary, “The Fight for Water: A Farm Worker Struggle,” not only follows the 4,000 desperate workers who walked 50 arid miles to the San Luis Reservoir, but also outlines the controversial cause of the current agricultural crisis: a 2009 order to stop pumping water from the reservoir in order to protect a tiny threatened fish, the Delta smelt, as mandated by the Endangered Species Act. “The Fight for Water” premiered in Oseguera’s hometown of Newman in 2012 and screened at several film festivals before being released on DVD this fall.
“I realized I had to get knowledge of the water issues to make decisions about putting this film together,” Oseguera says of the three years’ labor invested in the film.
Fortunately, he says, his two years in SF State’s cinema department — where he wrote a screenplay that won a Script Magazine scholarship to attend a conference held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — helped him find his personal angle.
“Before State, I had only been exposed to big commercial films,” he says. But in Professor Jim Kitses’ film appreciation class he watched “Woody Allen, the French New Wave, really experimental things like Truffaut. I took a documentary class and was fascinated by Michael Moore, the way he made his films personal. And also Errol Morris. He takes personal stories and expands from that in fascinating ways.”
But getting the interviews he needed proved difficult: Farmers were apprehensive about talking to the media. “I almost gave up,” Oseguera says. “Luckily, a year later two farmers decided to do it.”
In the six years since filming, the drought has only worsened and one of the farmers, George del Bosque, has sold off more of his land. Oseguera is not optimistic about the Central Valley’s future. “People are going to be moving out. The federal government having to come in to feed the community — we’ll see that again.”
As the controversy continues, so does Oseguera’s filmmaking life. “I had a great experience at State,” he says, adding that he may return soon for his master’s degree. “I have an idea for another documentary I’d like to start next year.”