Port Townsend Film Festival Executive Director Janette Force, left, joins emcee Joey Pipia in dressing up for Saturday night’s outdoor screening of “Legally Blonde” in downtown Port Townsend. Force, who has led the organization for 12 years, is retiring after this fall’s festival. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Townsend Film Festival Executive Director Janette Force, left, joins emcee Joey Pipia in dressing up for Saturday night’s outdoor screening of “Legally Blonde” in downtown Port Townsend. Force, who has led the organization for 12 years, is retiring after this fall’s festival. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Films earn awards at Port Townsend festival

Executive director honored for 12 years in role

PORT TOWNSEND — It was an emotion- and movie-filled weekend. Grown men cried. So did the woman who leads the Port Townsend Film Festival.

“I can’t describe the honor of standing here,” Janette Force, the fest’s executive director, said Saturday night from the outdoor-cinema stage in downtown Port Townsend.

She’d just been taken by surprise by the film festival board and staff, who seized the moment to honor Force for her 12 years as chief.

Hailing her as “a Force of nature, our moral compass,” board president Nancy McLachlan handed her a Galatea statuette.

This figure, a miniature of the sculpture that stands over Port Townsend’s Haller Fountain, is like those given to award winners of festivals past.

“Thank you all for believing in me. It means the world,” Force said, her tears almost concealed by her sunglasses and face mask.

A new executive director will be announced in October, she added — and then it was on with the night’s festivities.

Like a few others in the audience, Force had dressed up in hot pink for “Legally Blonde,” the movie shown Saturday on the giant screen on Taylor Street.

The Reese Witherspoon comedy, now 20 years young, was the last outdoor film to be shown during this year’s festival. The documentary “Lily Topples the World” screened Friday night, and “A League of Their Own” was slated for Sunday, but rainy weather scrubbed it.

Meanwhile, back on the Internet, the Port Townsend Film Festival continues throughout this week with more than 80 feature films, documentaries and shorts, available for streaming via PTfilmfest.com.

Single movies can be viewed for $15, while a full-festival pass, which covers unlimited streaming through this Sunday, costs $120. Synopses and trailers can be found on the website and the festival office can be reached at 360-379-1333 or [email protected]

At 5 p.m. this past Sunday, Force and festival programmer Jane Julian announced the winners of the jury awards: $7,000 in prizes. The half-hour segment, their emotional conversation with the winners, is available for free streaming throughout the festival. In it, Force and Julian make video calls to each recipient, surprising them in their homes.

The jury prize winners were:

• Best Narrative Feature, $2,500, “Give or Take” directed by Paul Riccio;

• Best Documentary Feature, $2,500, “Youth v Gov,” directed by Christi Cooper;

• Spirit of the Port Townsend Film Festival, $1,000, “Holy Frit,” directed by Justin Monroe;

• Jim Ewing Award for first-time directors, $1,000, Alicia J. Rose for “A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff;”

• Also receiving jury recognition were the narrative short “How to Fall in Love in a Pandemic,” directed by Michael-David McKernan, part of the festival’s “Jane’s Faves” shorts program, and the documentary short “Leylak,” directed by Scott Aharoni and Dennis Latos, one of the shorts in the “Love Lost and Found” program.

Each of the filmmakers lamented the fact that they couldn’t attend the Port Townsend festival in person. And a couple of them got choked up when Force gave them the news of the award, even before she mentioned the check involved.

Paul Riccio, director of “Give or Take,” expressed pure shock when he learned he’d won Best Narrative Feature.

“That’s awesome. That is really thrilling,” he began.

“Give or Take” is “the definition of a comedy with heart,” Force told him. It’s the story of a son returning to his hometown to put his deceased father’s affairs in order. It is also, she added, “a compelling, moving portrait of a son’s journey.”

“You really got me … It’s been tough these past couple years, not being able to get out there,” Riccio said, weeping.

The Spirit of the Port Townsend Film Festival award went to “Holy Frit,” a story of two artists and their differing perspectives. It was a film Force and Julian connected with on a deep level, they told director Justin Monroe.

“That means so much to us. Thank you,” Monroe said, his voice husky.

Then Force got a little teary.

As the festival continues, viewers can vote for their own favorites; the audience choice awards for feature narrative and documentary will be announced soon after the fest’s Sunday conclusion.

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]

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