Filmmaker reels in Jefferson students; shares tale behind her documentary on artist

QUILCENE — Film editor Linda Hattendorf was heading out of her Manhattan, N.Y., apartment near the World Trade Center 10 years ago when she noticed an old man on the sidewalk drawing pictures of cats.

Liking cats, she stopped to talk to him.

That initial encounter with the artist, a homeless man of Japanese descent, led Hattendorf to the subject of her award-winning documentary, “The Cats of Mirikitani.”

On Monday, Hattendorf brought her message to students at Quilcene High School: The best stories are right on your doorstep.

Capture the stories

“Get a camera, get some friends and get started,” Hattendorf told the students. “You can do it so easily now.”

Hattendorf also spoke Monday night after a free showing of her film at the Quilcene Community Center.

She will be featured Friday night at 7 at the Peninsula College Little Theater in Port Angeles during a showing of the film.

Her brother, Bruce Hattendorf, is a longtime English and film professor at Peninsula College who oversees the college’s “Magic of Cinema” series.

“The Cats of Mirikitani” — which won Best Documentary at the Port Townsend Film Festival in 2006 — is about the relationship between Linda Hattendorf and 80-year-old Japanese artist Jimmy Mirikitani, who is living on the street at the time that she meets him.

She later discovers that he spent time at a Japanese internment camp in California during World War II.

Artwork on display

Beginning today, Mirikitani’s artwork on loan from his one-man show at the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle will appear in the college’s Port Angeles PUB Art Gallery for a week.

Sponsored by the Port Townsend Film Festival, tonight’s showing in Quilcene is the first of four free films that will be shown this summer as part of the festival’s outreach into outlying communities, according to Janette Force, Port Townsend Film Festival executive director.

Students in rural Jefferson County are also eligible for passes to the Sept. 24-26 film festival.

And next winter, the festival is sending photographers, writers and videographers to Quilcene to document the history of the town and its people.

Close to home

Students need to know that film making, Hattendorf said, can be a path to a career that doesn’t necessarily lead far from home.

“Stay here,” Hattendorf said. “These are the stories that need to be told; stories that give a voice to people who normally don’t have a voice.

“There are too many filmmakers in New York.”

Hattendorf told the students about how she left her home in Cincinnati with a typewriter and a suitcase and headed to New York, where she got a job in publishing.

Walking in the city, she usually carried a camera, seeking examples of nature to create what she calls “video poems.”

When she saw Mirikitani, she was at first drawn to his art, then to his past.

Mirikitani was displaced from two homes — first as a young child in Japan and then as a young adult in Seattle when the United States entered World War II.

A third event decades later, the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center, led to a shift in their lives when Hattendorf invited Mirikitani to stay with her in the aftermath, which had turned their neighborhood into a demilitarized zone.

Shift in focus

It also brought a shift in her artistic focus.

“In documentary filmmaking, you are trying to tell a story,” Hattendorf said.

“I thought I knew which story I was telling, but events change.

“You try to follow events, but at first, I didn’t know what it was about. Jimmy kept making art, no matter what happened.”

Mirikitani got his own apartment after five months, and after the documentary came out in 2006, he was reunited with his sister in Seattle, Hattendorf said, as well as with a niece who was poet laureate of San Francisco.

Now the artist, who will be 90 in June, makes an annual trip to the West Coast to visit and to join other former internees who travel to the Tule Lake Internment Camp in northeast California.

“For me, the story came full circle when he went back to the camp and was able to walk through the gate freely,” Hattendorf said.

Last week, Linda and Bruce Hattendorf’s mother traveled from Cincinnati to Port Townsend and attended Sunday’s showing of her daughter’s documentary, a film festival benefit.

“It’s always nice to make your mother proud on Mother’s Day,” Linda Hattendorf said.

She is speaking to students at Chimacum High School and Jefferson Community School today.

For more information about the documentary, visit


Jefferson County Reporter-Columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at

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