PORT TOWNSEND — As you slide into your seat for a movie at the Port Townsend Film Festival, you might turn to the woman on your left, or to the man seated at your right, and behold an Academy Award-winning pioneer.
They’ve confirmed they’re coming to the festival here Sept. 21-23: Dame Elizabeth Jane Campion of New Zealand and Charles Burnett of Los Angeles.
Just last November Burnett received the Governors Award, an honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for his body of work making the African-American experience visible. The screenwriter and director will join actor and activist Danny Glover, this year’s festival special guest.
Campion, a screenwriter and director, won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for 1993’s “The Piano.” She is also the only woman in history to receive the Palme d’Or, the supreme prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
“We feel really fortunate as the stars literally align,” said Janette Force, executive director of the Port Townsend Film Festival.
With Campion, Burnett and Glover in attendance for at least a portion of the weekend, the festival will screen 96 films, hold meet-the-filmmaker panel discussions, a “Special Evening with Danny Glover” and even a bike ride for those up for it Sunday morning. Eight downtown venues are in the fold this year.
There’s quite a bit of free cinema scheduled, including “The Lion King,” “The Princess Bride” and “A Hard Day’s Night” on an outdoor screen on Taylor Street. The Key City Playhouse, 419 Washington St., and the Jefferson County Library, 620 Cedar Ave. in Port Hadlock, will morph into free movie theaters for the weekend, to screen a couple of dozen films.
The concierge and patron’s passes make this possible, Force said. Those are the high-end tickets, $650 and $1,500 respectively, that provide guaranteed seating, unlimited moviegoing and a slate of parties.
At the same time, there are the $40 One Pass, the $100 Six-Pack and the $220 Festival Pass along with $15 rush tickets at the door.
Details, including the schedule grid and links to websites and trailers for the films, await at www.PTFilmFest.com.
The festival office on the fourth floor of the Mount Baker Block building at 211 Taylor St., can be reached at 360-379-1333.
Glover was booked back in July, while Campion and Burnett contacted Force late in the festival planning game — after the program had gone to the printer and the screening grid locked in. Force has but one “to be announced” opening left Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23.
She hopes to fit “A Conversation with Charles Burnett” in there.
“It will be a hot ticket,” she said, in the 45-seat Starlight Room on Taylor Street.
In any case, the film lovers and filmmakers here for the weekend just might have their own conversations with Burnett, Campion and the rest of the film professionals in town. A festival like this, Force believes, is a fertile place for spontaneous connection.
“We have 17 first-time directors this year,” she added. “To me, that’s amazing,” and an opportunity for emerging filmmakers to mix with the veterans.
Campion, 64, counts among her directing credits “Bright Star,” “An Angel at My Table,” “Sweetie,” “Portrait of a Lady” and the erotic thriller “In the Cut” with Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo.
She will travel to Port Townsend’s “film lover’s block party,” as it’s called, with her producer Tanya Seghatchian, whose projects include “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
Burnett, 74, directed “To Sleep with Anger,” the centerpiece of the festival’s Special Evening with Danny Glover at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21.
Burnett’s movies over the past four decades include “Killer of Sheep,” “My Brother’s Wedding,” “The Glass Shield,” “Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property” and “Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation.”
Along with the festival’s scores of screenings and gatherings, Burnett will have a chance to attend “A Community Conversation with Danny Glover and Rais Bhuiyan” at 1:30 p.m. on festival Friday.
The free event will take place at First Presbyterian Church, 1111 Franklin St., with no-cost tickets available there starting at 12:50 p.m.
With Port Townsend activist Martha Jo Trolin moderating, Glover will discuss how he’s used his fame to draw attention to issues of human rights.
Bhuiyan, a Muslim and a survivor of a hate crime, will join the conversation to talk about his work in World without Hate, a Texas-based nonprofit organization.
Now is a thrilling time in the Port Townsend Film Festival’s 19-year history, said Force, who is in her ninth season as executive director.
It’s also “a challenging year in our culture. People are full of disquiet, full of anxiety about the unknown.
“Part of our desire is to help people bridge that gap of parallel cultures: Muslim culture, black culture … We’re living parallel lives. We have an opportunity to bridge the gap, using art and conversation.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.