PORT TOWNSEND — And now: the finale. With lots of feeling, because that’s Janette Force.
After 12 years at the wheel of the Port Townsend Film Festival, the executive director has announced she’ll retire following events this fall.
“How can I describe this wild ride?” Force asked in her letter to supporters, adding she’s beholden to the nonprofit festival’s board plus some 300 volunteers for turning her loose on it.
Rose Theatre owner Rocky Friedman has served on that board and has known Force since before she was a festival volunteer herself.
Enthusiasm — the catching kind — is just one thing she brings to the scene, he said.
Force is “always hatching new ideas, new programs that were never part of it in the beginning,” Friedman added.
She’s also brought the festival home on or under budget.
Force had intended the 20th anniversary year in 2019 to be her last. Then came the global pandemic. No way would she abandon her festival.
Make that two of them: the fall “film lovers’ block party” saw a sister festival, Women & Film, brought into the world on Force’s watch in 2015. Both are part of Port Townsend’s array of events, bringing locals and out-of-towners together around the Rose Theatre and other big screens put up downtown.
Everything went virtual in 2020, and “there have been some benefits. Folks got to see many more films, and providing pre-recorded interviews added some depth to our experience,” Force wrote in an email Friday.
“When we are able to return to live events, we will continue streaming, and the festival will be different because of our post-pandemic world.
“That transition,” she added, “is a perfect time to welcome new perspectives and fresh ideas to production and to the organization.
“And, since I will be 70 in August, I am looking toward an actual summer vacation next year, instead of summer being the very busiest time for my work.”
On March 18, Force and her staff will host “A Toast to the Future of the Port Townsend Film Festival,” a fundraiser on Zoom; tickets are free at PTFilmfest.com.
This year, Force added PTFF Pics, a year-round program offering a new film for online streaming at the beginning of each month. Coupled with her interviews with directors, these movies come from past festivals or from filmmakers’ new work.
In April, the Pic will be “Charged: The Eduard Garcia Story,” a 2017 festival feature.
Force, who described it as a film about catastrophe, healing and courage, interviews Garcia and director Phil Baribeau about how the story was captured and what’s happened since the film was released.
“Then on April 23,” she said, “we open Women & Film,” the 10-day, all-online festival spotlighting female directors and the stories they choose to tell.
The 22nd annual Port Townsend Film Festival is set for Sept. 23 through Oct. 3; the screenings, panel discussions and awards will again go online.
“Announcing my retirement this early allows the board of directors at PTFF to do an effective job search with no pressure,” Force said.
“The delightful thing for me is to imagine that someone is about to get an incredible new job,” while she pursues at least two activities: frolicking with her grandchildren and, as she puts it, continuing to play the guitar not all that well.
With her equilibrium amid the festival swirl, Force is a hard act to follow, Friedman said. She transitioned the event’s featured guest aspect from famous actors such as Cloris Leachman and Dyan Cannon to activist filmmakers such as John Sayles and Charles Burnett.
Some have been both, such as Danny Glover in 2018.
“More so than ever, [the festivals] emphasize independent film,” Friedman said.
Hollywood stars are fun, and they sell tickets, he added. But they’re not central to the event; “she proved that.”
Force’s will be a sought-after position, he said.
“That person could already be here in Port Townsend, or they could be somewhere else … I hope the board sees her decision to leave as just another opportunity that opens up all kinds of possibilities.”
Force, for her part, envisions the day when the giant inflatable screen reappears on Taylor Street, to be lit by free outdoor movies during the fall festival.
As people emerge from pandemic hibernation, she said, there will be renewed energy in the air.
She hopes to get out in it, run into her fellow film lovers — and share a hug.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]