PORT TOWNSEND — Nearly two weeks before hitting full swing, the Port Townsend Film Festival will live-stream the free “Feeling Through Experience” at 4 p.m. Saturday.
With a pair of short films and a discussion, the online event is all about human connection. “Feeling Through” is the first movie to be streamed: an 18-minute drama about the chance meeting of a young New Yorker and a deaf-blind man.
The second, a 24-minute documentary titled “Connecting the Dots,” tells the story of what came after.
Next is a panel discussion, to complete the presentation in just under two hours. Viewers can sign up to watch at no cost via FeelingThrough.com/register.
Putting this together — with accommodations for sighted, hearing, visually impaired and deaf viewers — “is nothing short of a miracle,” said Janette Force, the fest’s executive director.
“Feeling Through” stars Steven Prescod as the younger man and Robert Tarango, a deaf-blind actor who works at the Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point, N.Y.
Doug Roland, the director, made the movie based on his own experience one summer night in the city. He contacts the Helen Keller center hoping to find the man he met that night, and instead meets a skeptical staff.
“I had never received any call like that,” executive director Susan Ruzenski recalls at the beginning of “Connecting the Dots.”
Roland persists, and serendipitous events follow. “Connecting the Dots” and “Feeling Through” are both about strangers helping each other despite — or maybe because of — their differences.
“Ordinarily, we would host this during the festival,” said Force, “but we want it to be free for the community throughout the region,” replete with conversation after the screening.
The panel includes Tarango, Angela Theriault of the DeafBlind Service Center in Seattle and Will Butler of Be My Eyes, a free app connecting blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers for assistance via live video calls.
The discussion will be live and interactive, noted Force. Participants using a braille display or needing audio description can email the hosts at [email protected].
At the 21st annual Port Townsend Film Festival later this month, there won’t be any conversations while standing in line outside the theaters or bumping into filmmakers at the festival hospitality suite. But Force is determined to provide an inspirational experience.
“I’ve pivoted several times in my life,” she said. Back in April, she moved the annual Women & Film festival entirely online. During the months since, Force and the festival staff have been figuring out how to do the much bigger fall event.
The full program is now on PTFilmFest.com: 80 short and feature-length movies, many with filmmaker interviews attached, Sept. 24 through Oct. 4. Passes range from $60 for a “six-pack” to $120 for access to everything. Single tickets, at $12, will be available starting at 8 a.m. the first day. Synopses and trailers for the films can be viewed on the festival website.
“The Feeling Through Experience,” with its emotional story and behind-the-scenes look at Roland’s creative process, is an ideal introduction to this year’s event, Force believes.
For her, it’s “the ultimate use of cinema to change our world,” one chance encounter at a time.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.