|East Coast Premiere|
|Winner: BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY DOC FEATURE|
|Crew: ||Producers: Bernardo Ruiz, Lauren Capps - Screenwriters: - Editor: Fiona Otway
Harvest Season delves into the lives of people who work behind the scenes of the premium California wine industry, during one of the most dramatic grape harvests in recent memory. The film follows the stories of Mexican-American winemakers and migrant workers who are essential to the wine business, yet are rarely recognized for their contributions. Their stories unfold as wildfires ignite in Napa and Sonoma counties, threatening the livelihoods of small farmers and winemakers who are already grappling with a growing labor shortage, shifting immigration policies, and the impacts of a rapidly changing climate.
Bernardo Ruiz is a two-time Emmy® nominated documentary filmmaker and member of the Academy. He was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. His directorial feature debut, Reportero, (POV, 2013) about attacks on the press in Mexico premiered at Full Frame (U.S.), IDFA (Europe) and Ambulante (Mexico). New York Magazine called it "a powerful reminder of how journalism often requires immense amounts of physical and psychological bravery." His second feature documentary, Kingdom of Shadows (POV, 2016) premiered at SXSW in the U.S. and IDFA in Europe. "Many documentaries have chronicled the drug war in the U.S. and Mexico," writes Slackerwood of the film, "but few have humanized it as poignantly as Kingdom of Shadows. [It] is more observant than crusading...rooted in first-rate journalism." The New York Times called it "unforgettable."
Anyone who has ever set foot on a working vineyard, knows that without workers, there is no wine. Yet rarely, if ever, are the workers, and other behind-the-scenes players in the wine industry, highlighted in the abundant programming about food, travel and wine.
Rarer still are stories about the daughters and sons of vineyard workers becoming winemakers themselves. In fact, the role this new crop of vintners have played in the shaping of California wine has been woefully neglected. I wanted to make a film that would give viewers the full panorama - a film that explored the experiences of relative newcomers—guestworkers into “wine country” (Napa and Sonoma)—alongside that of the second-generation artists and entrepreneurs who have labored invisibly for decades, rarely receiving the credit and recognition they deserve.
Inspired by Jon Else’s Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle (1999), which follows the staging of an opera from the perspective of the stagehands, I set out to follow three behind-the-scenes players in wine country— all of whom have ties to Mexico. In the film, we meet Rene Reyes Ornelas, an H-2A guestworker from Michoacán, Vanessa Robledo, a winegrower and entrepreneur from a prominent winemaking family that settled in Sonoma after World War II and Gustavo Brambila, a veteran behind-the-scenes winemaker whose professional trajectory can be traced back to 1976, a year that transformed Napa’s role in the global wine economy.
Though I actually began filming in December of 2015, the bulk of production happened during what would become a momentous harvest season—the fall of 2017. It was a season of unpredictable weather, labor shortages and heightened immigration crackdowns. It was capped by a history-making wildfire that caused widespread damage and claimed at least 44 lives.
By following three players in the wine world through the ups and downs of the 2017 season and its aftermath, I wanted to give audiences a feel for the hard work, skill, obsession and artistry at the heart of winemaking. And during a time of explicitly hostile rhetoric and immigration policies—often supported by false claims—I wanted to place the ‘behind-the-scenes players’ at the center of the stage, where they certainly belong.