PORT TOWNSEND — When prolific Hollywood screenwriter Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith tells her own story, she does it with a cast of characters straight from real life.
Two women have starring roles: Sue Phillips, her English and creative writing teacher at Chimacum High School, and her mother, Katie Smith of Port Ludlow.
Both of the Smith women plan to appear Saturday, one of three nights of outdoor cinema presented by the Port Townsend Film Festival this weekend.
Each evening will include a free movie showing at 7:30 p.m. on Taylor Street downtown.
One of Kiwi’s hit movies will light the giant screen on Saturday. It’s a picture that grossed more than $141 million worldwide while making its lead actor, Reese Witherspoon, a huge star.
The Port Townsend Film Festival, however, is not permitted to print the movie’s title in newspapers. The licenser, Swank Motion Pictures, doesn’t allow promotion that would compete with commercial theaters, though it does permit the festival to give details on its website, PTfilmfest.com.
Now, on with the true-life tale: Kiwi and the Smith family moved to Port Ludlow in 1980, around the time “An Officer and a Gentleman” was being filmed in Port Townsend. There were Richard Gere and Debra Winger sightings in local restaurants, Kiwi recalls. The dream of cinematic storytelling took shape in her teenage mind.
After graduating from Chimacum High School, Kiwi moved to Los Angeles in 1988 to go to Occidental College — and went on to write the scripts of movies including “Ten Things I Hate About You,” “She’s the Man,” “Ella Enchanted” and the above-mentioned blockbuster.
She’s also the author of “The Geography of Girlhood,” a novel set on the Olympic Peninsula, and “Trinkets,” another young-adult book that has been made into a series on Netflix.
Kiwi worked with her writing partner, Karen McCullah, on many film projects.
“Screen stories have so many moving parts … it’s great to have a partner” to work through them, she said.
Today, the screenwriter is visiting Chimacum High, meeting with students. She plans to talk about how she was a poet before she went into film — and how the two art forms mirror each other.
Making every line matter, creating an impactful scene, writing tight: these skills translate well from poetry to movie scripts, she said.
Kiwi recalls, too, that Phillips, now retired, was a driving force in her life.
“She gave me so much encouragement … she brought out the best stories in us — while being strict.”
Kiwi credits her mom, not only for nicknaming her after one of her favorite fruits, but also for demonstrating a strong work ethic.
Her parents, Katie and the late Mel Smith, started an employee benefits consulting business, and Kiwi worked in the office as a girl.
“They were amazing, hardworking, brilliant people,” she said.
On Saturday at the outdoor cinema, Kiwi will help preside over two contests: best human costume and best canine costume, both inspired by her movie screening that night. Information about them can be found at PTfilmfest.com, along with details about the rest of the outdoor cinema offerings.
Tonight’s free movie on the Taylor Street screen is “Lily Topples the World,” the true story of Lily Hevesh, an artist who builds and then topples massive works of domino art.
Hevesh will be the guest speaker prior to the 7:30 p.m. showing.
Sunday’s finale will be “A League of Their Own,” with Madonna, Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell and Tom Hanks.
As with the rest of the outdoor movies, patrons are urged to bring their own chairs and wear face masks when not eating or drinking fare from Taylor Street restaurants.
Rocky Friedman of the adjacent Rose Theatre will be selling popcorn.
Seeing the film festival — and the movie industry — shine a spotlight on stories created by and about women, Kiwi, 51, remarked on the changes she’s witnessed.
“It’s been a very cool journey, to see stories about women become more front and center,” she said.
“Now, there are so many young women writing teams, so many female creators. Stories about strong women are the stories I love.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]