PORT TOWNSEND — Thanks to a staff member’s connection, actor-producer-social activist Danny Glover is to be the special guest at this year’s Port Townsend Film Festival, executive director Janette Force has joyfully announced.
She’s skipping the fest’s traditional guess-the-guest contest, as it’s gotten cumbersome in recent years — and besides, at this point in the summer, it’s time to get on with pass sales for the Sept. 21-23 film festival.
Glover, who has a comedy, “Sorry to Bother You,” coming to movie theaters nationwide later this month, joins the Port Townsend festival’s history of guests ranging from actors Elliott Gould, Beau Bridges and Bruce Dern to directors John Sayles and Morgan Neville.
The Port Townsend Film Festival — which fills several downtown venues with screenings, Q-and-As with filmmakers and awards parties — will bring some 84 feature-length and short films here this year. Passes and information are at www.PTFilmFest.com while the festival office can be reached at 360-379-1333.
Force has been pursuing the 2018 special guest since November — “it’s a long dance, not for the faint of heart,” she said Thursday morning.
“When you figure out someone you really want, it’s worth it,” and she really wanted this one.
Glover, 71, has a filmography studded with “The Color Purple,” “Places in the Heart” and “Angels in the Outfield,” while his best-known movies are probably the “Lethal Weapon” series.
During the 19th annual festival here, he’ll be part of a filmmakers’ panel discussion and a public conversation — and not just about moviemaking, Force said, but also about his life as an activist.
A San Franciscan, Glover works with organizations including the California Poor People’s Campaign, Human Rights Watch, the Plastic Pollution Coalition and UNICEF. It was his connection to Barrios Unidos, a California program supporting at-risk youth and people coming out of the prison system, that led to his forthcoming trip to Port Townsend.
Sonny Flores, the film festival’s production manager, worked in the California state prison system for many years before retiring and moving here in 2013. He has a friend in Barrios Unidos founder Nane Alejandrez, who knows Glover well.
Flores ran a hospice for terminally ill men at the California Medical Facility prison in Vacaville, and asked Alejandrez if Glover might pay a visit at Christmastime in 2011.
Glover did; “he got right in there,” Flores recalled.
“He sat and talked with the guys … He was like a bright light in that hospice; a light in a dark place.”
Glover also spoke to another group of inmates about building new lives after release, Flores added.
Force, for her part, has long been following Glover’s off-screen activism. He is outspoken on prison reform, racial profiling and workers’ rights, and travels the world giving speeches and attending rallies.
“He’s made the choice,” she said, “to use his celebrity for the greater good.”
When she asked Glover which films he’d like to see highlighted at the Port Townsend festival, he suggested “To Sleep with Anger,” the 1990 drama that won him the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead. Director Charles Burnett also won Indie Spirit prizes for best director and screenplay. Force is soon to view and evaluate that film, and is also considering showing “Places in the Heart” (1984), for which Glover’s costar Sally Field won an Academy Award.
“As much fun as it would be,” Force doesn’t foresee having room to show any of the “Lethal Weapon” movies, since the festival lineup was pretty well locked in before Glover agreed to attend.
On festival Friday, Sept. 21, the special guest will partake in a public panel talk with Rais Bhuiyan, who appears in the documentary series “The Secret Lives of Muslims.” Also that Friday, Glover will do a public question-and-answer session after the screening of one of his movies.
“The rest of the weekend is up in the air,” said Force, since “we don’t know how long we’ll be able to keep him, as Glover is “always working.”
Film projects just in 2018 include “Proud Mary” with Taraji P. Henson, “Killing Winston Jones” with Richard Dreyfuss and “Come Sunday” with Chiwetel Ejiofor, along with the aforementioned “Sorry to Bother You.”
“We are thrilled to be honoring Danny Glover’s huge array of work as an actor,” said Force, “and his continued devotion to social justice.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.