An Awesome Array

Port Townsend Film Festival debuts lineup for virtual program

Luciano Marano
Posted 8/25/20





Features and documentaries, too.

The 21st annual Port Townsend Film Festival may have moved online, but it has lost nothing in the transition. A …

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An Awesome Array

Port Townsend Film Festival debuts lineup for virtual program






Features and documentaries, too.

The 21st annual Port Townsend Film Festival may have moved online, but it has lost nothing in the transition. A truly diverse array of offerings — feature films and docs, shorts and specials — was recently revealed when event officials debuted the full program, which truly ambitious audiences might actually get through entirely this time as nearly all the content will be accessible 24/7 throughout the event’s entire 10-day run.

Passes — $60 for a six-pack plan and $12 for a single ticket — are set to go on sale soon. Each pass is unique to a specific email address, though festival offerings can be screened via a television, computer, tablet or phone.

The festival runs from Thursday, Sept. 24 to Sunday, Oct. 4.

Visit to learn more and purchase.

Highlights of this year’s offerings include“A Most Beautiful Thing,” which tells the story of the first African American high school rowing team and their 20th anniversary reunion.

The West Side of Chicago in the ‘70s was not a good place to grow up. It was the kind of place where nobody asks what college you’re going to, but what gang will you join. And the most dangerous high school there was Manley, an unlikely spot to create the first African American rowing team.

This doc tells the story of that team, built of rival gang members, and their 20th reunion, when they also invite members of the Chicago Police Department to build a competing team.

“This film has all the elements of a good documentary — from the technical to the visual to the vulnerable,” said festival officials. “Director Mary Mazzio is truly familiar with the sport, is a gifted storyteller and has a deep and intuitive sense of suspense and payoff. There are some great cuts here, from the opening transition with the red starter flag to the West Side ghetto, to the use of swooping drone shots in the city and over the water.”

“Her Effortless Brilliance: A Celebration of Lynn Shelton Through Film and Music” is a feature documentary about the life and career of the renowned Seattle filmmaker, who died in May at the age of 54. The resulting grief felt by her fans, collaborators, and loved ones comes through in this documentary by Shelton’s longtime friend Megan Griffiths, said event officials, which features a star-studded lineup of appearances, including Emily Blunt, Kaitlyn Dever, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mark and Jay Duplass, Jeff Garlin, Joshua Leonard, Sean Nelson, Michaela Watkins, and Reese Witherspoon — as well as music from her partner Marc Maron, Andrew Bird, Ben Gibbard, Laura Veirs, and Tomo Nakayama.

“Coming to filmmaking in her mid 30s, Lynn Shelton was truly a force in American independent cinema and was a pillar of the arts community in her hometown of Seattle,” officials said. “Her work drew acclaim for its compassion, humor, unique voice and wonderful performances. She is gone too soon and will be deeply missed. Come meet the magic behind the magic.”

A sampling of other notable titles from this year’s program include:

“Beyond the Bolex” (feature doc)

In the 1920s, immigrant inventor Jacques Bolsey aimed to disrupt the early film industry with a motion picture camera for the masses: the iconic Bolex. More than 90 years later, his granddaughter Alyssa Bolsey pieces together the fragments from a family archive to reveal the story. Interviewing family members and renowned filmmakers, Alyssa travels to Switzerland, and delves into Jacques’ diary, archival film reels and collected images in order to understand the man and his impact on generations of filmmakers. This is a very personal film, and a true immigrant’s story. Many filmmakers still swear by Bolsey’s invention, and “Beyond the Bolex” is an ode to the man and his camera.

“Born Into the Gig” (feature doc)

If Bob Marley was your grandpa, could you ever get out of his shadow? This music-driven documentary follows five singer-songwriters hoping to carve their own musical identity in the shadow of family greatness. Follow Chris Stills (son of Stephen Stills and French star, Veronique Sanson), Skip Marley (grandson of Bob Marley), Kori Whithers (daughter of the hit-maker Bill Withers), Ben and Sally Taylor (children of James Taylor and Carly Simon) as they make their move in the music industry. For these “children of,” a career in music may seem fairly obvious. But the reality of making it on your own merits in the family business takes each character on an emotional journey with unexpected twists, highs and lows.

“A Home Called Nebraska” (feature doc)

Nebraska — you’d think this a most unlikely place for new immigrants to be welcomed, being a conservative, largely rural state. But through the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, Nebraska has long been the first new home for the victims of terrorism, civil war, rape, attempted murder and persecution. “A Home Called Nebraska” is the surprising, emotional story of a mid-western welcome, of unlikely friendships and a revitalized American Dream deep in the conservative U.S. heartland. Think you know Nebraska? Think again.

“Pictures of His Life” (feature doc)

The underwater photographer Amos Nachoum’s white whale is not a whale at all, but is, instead, a polar bear. Nachoum has swum with crocodiles and killer whales, with anacondas and with great white sharks. But one major predator has always eluded him. The legendary stills photographer has always dreamed of swimming underwater with a polar bear and capturing it face-to-face on film. He tried before and barely escaped with his life, but now, at 65, he is determined to give it one last try. No one has ever shot polar bears the way Nachoum wants to — while swimming with them — and for good reason: Polar bears consider humans part of their diet. Determined to get the shot this time, the photographer embarks on a five-day Canadian Arctic expedition with a small crew. “The Old Man and the Sea,” Hollywood-style.

“The Race to Alaska” (feature doc)

We’re all living through strange times now; social distancing, staying safe. Well, get ready to leave your safe place behind! Five years in the making, “The Race to Alaska” chronicles an annual adrenaline-fueled, 750-mile boat race from Port Townsend through the dangerous and spectacular wilderness of the Inside Passage, all the way to Ketchikan, Alaska. Described as “the Iditarod, on a boat, with a chance of drowning or being eaten by a grizzly bear,” this race attracts the intrepid and the unhinged. Meet the dauntless men and women competing for the $10,000 first prize — with no support teams, no rest stops, and practically no rules, except, of course, for that small detail about no motors allowed. Riptides, dolphins, storms, rain, snow, hunger, cold, exhaustion, bears; those are the things you can expect. And then, the race happens: No motors and no support, and nobody finishes without a story.

“Standing Up, Falling Down” (feature film)

Billy Crystal gives one of the best dramatic performances of his career in “Standing Up, Falling Down.” If you have ever watched a stand-up comedian and thought “I could do that,” this is the perfect reality check for you. Scott, in his 30s, returns to his parents’ home on Long Island after four years trying and failing to succeed in comedy clubs in Los Angeles. A sudden encounter might be the prescription for this damaged soul. This lighthearted film makes a good case for both falling down and standing up.

“Outside Story” (feature film)

Frustrated, listless, and heartbroken after breaking up with his girlfriend, introverted video editor Charles (Brian Tyree Henry) is struggling to make his deadline. When a food delivery goes awry, Charles experiences every New Yorker’s worst nightmare: getting locked out of their apartment. With no shoes, no wallet, and a phone low on battery power, he runs into a cavalcade of eccentric Brooklynites, including a swinging upstairs neighbor, a strict parking enforcement officer, the kindly widow next door, and a budding piano prodigy. His zany encounters with his neighbors prompt a life reevaluation and reassessment of the abrupt end of his relationship.

“The Perfect Candidate” (feature film)

Maryam is a doctor in Saudi Arabia with two problems: one is the dirt road leading to her clinic that becomes impassable when flooded, and the other is the refusal of men to be treated, or even touched by a female doctor. While her father, a respected musician, is away on a tour, Maryam sets out on a trip to Riyadh, is in need of a chaperone and before she knows it, she is running for office. This accidental heroine takes on the cynics (Arabic with English subtitles).

For a complete list of this year’s festival offerings, including short documentaries and narrative films, visit


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