Laura Jean Schneider
In a year that’s been a little tough to celebrate, something’s coming you won’t want to miss. The 22nd year of the Port Townsend Film Festival is not just back virtually, there are numerous outdoor performances scheduled to awe and delight this year, too.
The festival runs from Thursday, Sept. 23 through Sunday, Oct. 3. Outdoor events are scheduled for the opening weekend evenings from Sept. 24, Sept. 25 and Sept. 26, and will be held on Taylor Street across from the Rose Theatre. Outdoor films seat at 7:15 p.m., no ticket needed. Festival organizers recommend grabbing something to eat from a local restaurant and bringing a chair.
At 8 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 23, viewers can pay $15 per film to access any one of more than 100 films. For true cinema buffs, the unlimited virtual pass is $120 and allows access to nearly almost every film in the festival.
This year’s festival features a delicious mix of films from features to shorts, here’s a little teaser of what’s on the table in 2021.
WHAT’S ON THE MENU?
Well, nothing tops free.
“Lily Topples the World” is the first of three free outdoor feature films, and stars Lily Hevish, a young Asian woman who becomes a YouTube domino toppling sensation. A huge plus? She’s going to be here in the flesh. Enjoy this delightful story at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24 on Taylor Street.
Dress in hot pink and trick out your pup, because you don’t not want to miss a chance to win the “Look Like Elle and Bruiser” Contest. Who are Elle and Bruiser? Well, it’s time you watched “Legally Blonde,” the feature for Saturday’s outside theatre on Taylor Street Judging the contest will be none other than a screenwriter for the film, Chimacum High School graduate Kristen “Kiwi” Smith.
The final free outdoor film on Sunday, Sept. 25 is the home-run hit “A League of Their Own,” bringing a nostalgic dose of Tom Hanks and Rosie O’Donnell circa 1992, surely somewhat effective against the COVID blues. Same time, same place.
THE CREME DE LA CREME
Other not-to-miss special events include the virtual presentation of a Port Townsend Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award for actor Tom Skerritt, who plays the role of “Ben” in a film adaptation of “East of the Mountains,” a novel penned by Seattle novelist David Guterson of “Snow Falling on Cedars.” The special pass is $25 and includes interview material and the award presentation.
Things get loud and impassioned in “Los Hermanos,” where the titular Afro-Cuban brothers Ilmar and Aldo correspond internationally with violin and piano. The film reveals how their music finally comes together in person, in an incredible performance from the siblings, the Grammy-winning Harlem Quartet, and maestro Joshua Bell. The $15 special event includes an interview with the filmmaker, and is available in both Spanish and English.
How did the stars deal with the pandemic? Watch Julianne Moore, Rosie Perez, and Emily Mortimer, among other greats, react to one of the most difficult times in modern history in “With / In” Volumes I and II. Using just an iPhone and whatever was handy, a volley of voices and experiences were shared through the screen. The $15 viewing fee includes an interview with the filmmakers.
A FEAST FOR THE EYES
Feature documentaries run the gamut from fire, to ice.
“To Which We Belong” is a perfect fit for Eat Local Month here in Port Townsend.
While it’s not exactly about food, it’s about soil. And climate change, and regenerative agriculture, and a radical new approach to managing livestock and agriculture. The film follows nine small farms and ranches, from cattle outfits to seaweed harvesters, who are committed to thinking outside the box to help halt climate change. Bonus: also includes an interview with the filmmaker.
Music lovers and nostalgics, take “Vinyl Nation” for a spin. This 90-minute documentary covers the vinyl record renaissance over the past decade. A more diverse audience has emerged: they are younger, both male and female, and multicultural. This same revival has made buying music more expensive, benefited established bands over independent artists, and muddled the question of whether vinyl actually sounds better than other formats. Has the return of vinyl made music fandom more inclusive or divided?
Bust a move with “Firestarter,” the story of how three young Aboriginal brothers — Stephen, David, and Russell Page — took a newborn dance company and, along with its founders and alumni, turned it into a First Nations cultural powerhouse. Through the eyes of the brothers, this documentary explores the loss and reclaiming of culture, the burden of intergenerational trauma, and the power of art as a messenger for social change and healing. The 97-minute film includes a filmmaker interview.
It’ll be easy to chill at home with feature documentary “After Antarctica,” which plunges the viewer into a world of ice and snow. The film is an intimate portrait of Will Steger, a trailblazer and one of world’s most admired polar explorers. Thanks to never-before-seen archival footage, viewers can follow Steger’s historic 1989 traverse across Antarctica, which was the longest crossing of the continent in history. The film runs 104 minutes, and includes a filmmaker interview.
Local newspapers still play a crucial part in delivering critical news. “Storm Lake” follows a town of the same name in Iowa, that has seen its fair share of change over 40 years. Big agriculture. Migrant workers. A pandemic. Still fighting the good fight is 63-year-old Pulitzer-prize winner Art Cullen and his family-run newspaper, The Storm Lake Times delivers local news and biting editorials on a shoestring budget for their 3,000 readers.
Short reels can have a big impact.
“Love Lost and Found” is a collection of several shorts that warmed the hearts of the Port Townsend Film Festival crew. Subject matter appropriate to the title, heartwarming, and costs just $15 to feel better than you have all year.
Girl power is the force behind the small but mighty selection of “Go Gurrls!” Included is the story of Marlie, a symbol of resilience and vigor. She was born with an aggressive brain tumor and spent her first few years in hospitals. Today, 7-year-old Marlie insists on mutton bustin’ in her free time.
If you’re into random surprises, “Jane’s Favs” is a sure-fire win. Director of programming for the festival, Jane Julian could not let go of these seven short documentaries. Plain old-fashioned goodness is what binds the very unlikely parings. Each one is a little gem without a wasted minute.
Filmmaking excellence and unique perspectives meld in “Potpourri,” a handful of standout shorts, including a boat story (it is Port Townsend, after all). Once the pride of a North Sea trawler fleet, “The Annie” struggles to survive in a tide of apathy and neglect. When tragedy threatens her future, the crew strive to define not only themselves, but their way of life.
What to do with these films in the 30- to 40-minute range? Well, sit down and watch three in a row, watch one and pause for dinner, hop on the elliptical with your favorite characters … Travel from Germany, to Spain, to London and adventure with the “Be Inspired” collection of somewhat-shorts.
A FEAST OF FEATURES
Here’s the scoop on satisfying selections for every palette.
Take a trip to Germany and meet Wanda, a 35-year-old caregiver for 70-year-old Joseph, at his family villa by the lake. The work is poorly paid, but Wanda needs the money for her own family in Poland. The peacefulness of Swiss Lake is juxtaposed with what happens inside the wealthy residence, revealing a tangled web of relationships. A bit of unexpected news brings everything that was simmering just under the surface to a roiling boil. “My Wonderful Wanda” is filmed in German, and runs 111 minutes. Bonus: It stars a gorgeous cow who carries two children on her back!
Stream “Everything in the End” in English, Icelandic, or Portuguese. Paulo is on vacation in Iceland when his discovers the world is ending in a matter of days. Unable to get home, he finds himself stranded in a small village where he spends his days wandering, making his last few human connections. Film includes an interview with filmmakers.
Musical lovers, this one’s for you: While “Best Summer Ever” has a familiar plot, the film knows that and winks at it. These talented teens exist in a world where waitstaff, cops, sportscasters, camp counselors, teammates, and cheerleaders have disabilities alongside people who don’t. No one gawks or wonders aloud about what they can and can’t do. This casual inclusiveness gives the story a surprising warmth and camaraderie. The film is at its most compelling during its many original musical numbers, which are staged and shot with zest and precision. Starring Benjamin Bratt and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Just take the “Jump, Darling,” and go all-in on an adventure featuring Russell, an actor turned drag queen. He’s given a wrenching ultimatum just as the curtain is going up. Overcome by indecision, he escapes to his grandmother’s house in the country, where he finds Grandma Margaret (Cloris Leachman in her final starring role before her death this year), in steep decline. In a perfect, if precarious, solution for both of them, he moves in to protect her from her greatest fear. You’ll have to watch it to find out exactly what that is.
“Luzzo” is a boat story, for a boat town, featuring a real-life fisherman in his first-ever acting gig. For three generations, the boat Luzzo carried the family fishermen out to sea and safely home again. But Jesmark, who has inherited the boat, sees change is on the horizon. Battling diminishing fish harvests, a ruthless fishing industry, and pressures from home, Jesmark struggles to provide for his young family. The options of life on the docks turn darker and more dangerous, the returns ever bleaker. Although Jesmark seems at odds with the world and the direction it wants to him to take, the bond he has with his boat and the tenderness with which he cares for her is deeply touching. Filmed in Maltese on the island of Malta, the film comes with a filmmaker interview.
GET THE POPCORN
The Rose Theatre, at 235 Taylor St., currently has its hands full navigating the pandemic with grace. Never fear, the theatre will be collaborating with the PT Film Fest again in 2022.
The Rose is open to vaccinated patrons, and will be showing a range of films to compliment the festival’s showings. Beginning
Sept. 24, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” plays at the Rose, along with other hand-picked selections.
Their signature popcorn, made with real butter, will be available for theatre goers and film enthusiasts alike. Don’t forget to grab some to-go goodness from local restaurants, kick back, and enjoy the show.