By Jan Halliday PTFF Director of Development
The Port Townsend Film Festival (PTFF), which one metropolitan daily called “Sundance by the Sea,” kicked off the morning of Friday, September 19, with a soft opening of independent films. All theaters were filled to capacity at the first 9am screenings, with lineups for tickets by 8am.
By noon, filmmakers were speaking to students in four district high schools, followed by director John Sayles and producer Maggie Renzi filling 250 seats in the well-used Port Townsend High School auditorium for a lively and candid conversation moderated by film scholar Robert Horton.
Opening ceremonies at 4:30pm featured 60 film professionals, the mayor and the tribal chairman of the Lower Elwha Tribe introduced to the welcoming crowd as they stepped from the Rakers restored classic cars. Salmon dinners were served on Taylor Street to 625 guests and festival pass holders, both of these a PTFF traditional welcome since its inception 15 years ago.
By 6:30 Friday evening, PTFF had sold out all six indoor houses, including the world premiere of Return of the River. Simultaneously, John Sayles’ Secret of Roan Inish flickered on the big screen set up at the end of Taylor Street, the free outdoor movie offered each night of the festival.
Sayles and Renzi’s films and Q&A played to full houses both days. Meanwhile, New York fashion blogger Ali Seth Cohen received a standing ovation for his film, Advanced Style, to a standing room only crowd. Programming director Jon Gann also had standing room only at his Sunday, 9:15am “WA to WA” screening of favorites from his DC Shorts Film Festival.
The festival also employed Skype for Q&As with Lynn Shelton, director of Laggies; Marshall Curry, director of Point and Shoot; and several other films whose directors could not attend.
Technology played a huge part in the success of this year’s festival. The pre-show slides, which were set to music, shorts, feature narratives and documentaries were burned to Blu-ray discs, packaged as a complete program and sent to each theatre manager. Flawless software was written over a period of three months, and on the spot as needed, by retired Microsoft tech wizards Chris and Pat McFaul to handle the festival’s enormous load of paperwork, details and pass generation. Over 300 community volunteers did everything from projection to setting up straw bales for seating in the outdoor theatre.
The festival this year also hosted their first two Film Fellows with a three-month residency so that they could edit their work, and gave festival scholarships of two nights lodging paid for by a donor and festival passes provided by SAGindie.
More than 22 film reviewers narrowed 400 entries to 83 films screened September 19-21, in Port Townsend’s walkable National Historic District. Winner of best narrative film, awarded by jurors, was The Invisible Collection from director Bernard Attal, and best documentary was The Ballad of Shovels & Rope from director Jace Freeman.
The PTFF program and other awards can be seen at www.ptfilmfest.com, along with highlights on the festival’s Facebook page.