2023 Schedule 
  Speakers &
Submitting a Film
About Us
Contact Reel Work

Reel Work Labor Film Festival


The Reel Work May Day Labor Film Festival takes place in California's central coast communities in and around Santa Cruz each year during the week of May First.

Reel Work presents cultural events, bringing together award-winning documentary film producers, workers, activists, students, and the public with the goal of increasing community awareness of the central role of work in our lives, to discuss economic and global justice issues, and to bring alive the history and culture of the labor movement in the US and abroad. We highlight how workers and community members band together in united effort for mutual benefit to achieve justice and dignity in the streets, fields, and workshops.

Cinematic representations of labor each year include local and international works, world premieres as well as classics. We inspire festival participants to join in the struggle for worker rights locally, nationally and globally to achieve social justice and international solidarity. And in the process we support filmmakers to produce the kind of film we want to screen.

Reel Work was founded in 2002. Credit goes to Myrna Cherin and Ginny Hirsch, long-time union activists and members of the Retirees Chapter of SEIU Local 415 in Santa Cruz. To make a little money for their retirees group, they had the idea of showing some movies honoring union organizing, which they mentioned to the then-President of the SEIU Local, who had also been looking for a way for union members to learn their own history. A small group of local union and community members coalesced around the idea. Bernice Belton, another indefatigable activist for social change, introduced the organizing group to the owner of the local independent movie house and sold him on the idea. Jim Schwenterley and his Nickelodeon Theatre remained a key sponsor for 15 years. Community Television of Santa Cruz County under the direction of Geoffrey Dunn took the labor festival under its wing as fiscal sponsor. CTV maintained the non-profit umbrella for Reel Work until the Resource Center for Nonviolence assumed that role in 2016. Documentary filmmaker John de Graaf, whose work has been presented in more than one festival season, suggested the Reel Work name. It was obvious to everyone involved in the project that most opportune date for such a festival would be May Day, celebrated worldwide as International Workers Day.

Each season, a core group of organizers creates a framework for the festival and invites union and community groups to adopt a date on the schedule and create a program of films, conversations, music, drama and any other appropriate elements consistent with the Reel Work theme. Fundraising and publicity are done in common, while the decentralized nature of other work draws in scores of volunteers and makes possible the production of an extensive program entirely with volunteer effort.

An outpouring of generous cash and in-kind contributions from labor, business and community sponsors allows Reel Work to maintain its admission policy of voluntary donation at the door and support the type of independent documentary filmmaking that we bring to the big screen.

In addition to screening important labor-related work, Reel Work aims to support filmmakers in creating the type of films we want to show.

The Festival respectfully requests that all film makers use union labor on their films in any ways that are possible. Local craft unions and guilds are all willing to work with low budget and independent films.

The Reel Work Festival Organizing Committee for the 2023 season includes: Aileen Vance, Carol Habercoss, Dana O'Donnell, Daryl Wise, D Nunns, Franco Picarella, Helene Krestensen, Jane Ng, Jeffrey Smedberg, Jennifer Colby, Jimmy Kelly, Morgan Miller, and Sarah Ringler.

Enjoy the show!

Page last updated 4/19/23

Powered by