What to look for — and what to see for free — at the Port Townsend Film Festival

PORT TOWNSEND — It’s a big, quirky block party, with free movies, a high-speed cooking contest and princesses of all stripes.

The 11th annual Port Townsend Film Festival starts today, filling the town with flickering light brighter and earlier than ever with screenings from 9 a.m. today through late Sunday.

In five theaters around downtown and uptown Port Townsend are events for just about any taste and spending level, from the Saturday Night Gala for pass holders to the documentaries showing at the Peter Simpson Free Cinema.

That new venue, at the American Legion hall at Monroe and Water Streets, will present 12 screenings, from morning till night today, Saturday and Sunday.

And then there are the old, or perhaps just middle-aged movies, arriving on the big screen erected outdoors on Taylor Street. “American Graffiti,” George Lucas’ ode to the 1950s is showing tonight, “The Princess Bride,” Rob Reiner’s fairy tale from 1987, screens Saturday night and, finally, “Big Night,” Stanley Tucci’s tale of two Italian-American brothers, wraps the festival Sunday night.

A classic trivia game will get going this evening before “American Graffiti,” and it’s open to everybody, organizer Joey Pipia said.

Three contestants will be picked at random from the audience to come up and answer questions based on the movie — or that have nothing to do with the movie.

Saturday brings the crowning of Port Townsend’s first-ever film festival princess, in the spirit of that night’s film.

“This competition is open to all. Yes, boys and girls, men and women,” Pipia added. “Contestants will be judged on their bestest princess comportment.”

Sunday brings the 60-Second Meal Cooking Competition, in which judges will scrutinize the participants’ style, the attractiveness of their dishes and overall quality of food.

Pipia promised to “give away cool stuff,” and described the contest prizes as “bling.” He did not elaborate, since they’re always a surprise.

The outdoor movie events start at 7:30 p.m. each night in front of The Rose Theatre at 235 Taylor St.

Taylor is also a good place to find festival programs, since the festival office is a few doors down from the Rose.

Answers to all manner of festival questions are also available at www.PTfilmfest.com or by phoning 360-379-1333.

This is a weekend to see movies you won’t find on the big screen here at any other date. And at many showings, the actors, directors and people who inspired the films will be on hand to talk with moviegoers.

Among those coming to town are Bunky Echo-Hawk, the Pawnee-Yakima artist who inspired a documentary to screen at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Rose and at 9 a.m. Sunday at the Pope Marine Theater, on Water Street at Madison.

He’ll attend at least one screening, and plans to paint to live music during the Saturday Night Gala. Examples of Echo-Hawk’s art can be seen at www.BunkyEchoHawk.com.

Another highlight of the festival comes with the showing of “For Once in My Life,” the story of the Spirit of Goodwill Band. Producer Christina Vidal and music director Javier Pena will present the film.

Pena went to work for Goodwill in 1996 and approached the organization’s chief about forming a band of people with disabilities. He got the approval, and went on to assemble a musical ensemble comprised entirely of individuals with mental and physical disabilities.

“The greatest reward has been seeing them grow individually and as a group, not only as musicians, but as human beings . . . I wanted to see this film made to tell the world what people with disabilities — or any person, period — can do when given an opportunity to succeed,” said Pena.

“We’re really excited about bringing films about disabled people with more than able lives,” festival executive director Janette Force added.

“For Once” screens at 6:15 p.m. tonight and again at 3:15 p.m. Saturday at the Rose Theatre.

Among the dozens of other films in this weekend’s festival are:

• “Ana’s Playground,” the story of an 11-year-old girl living in a war-ravaged neighborhood;

• “Waste Land,” which follows artist Vik Muniz from Brooklyn to his native Brazil, where the world’s largest garbage dump lies on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro;

• “Wheedle’s Groove,” tonight’s midnight movie at the Rose, about Seattle’s 1970s soul music scene;

• “Just Like Us,” a documentary featuring Egyptian-American comedian Ahmed Ahmed that showcases the cultures of Dubai, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia;

• “Smile ’til It Hurts,” the story of the singing phenomenon Up with People.

At the Peter Simpson Free Cinema, movie lovers can see collections of short films several times over the weekend. The collection titles are “Reviewers’ Passion,” “Transitions” and “More Reviewers’ Passion.”

At the other venues — The Rose, the Pope Marine, the Uptown Theatre on Lawrence Street — festival pass holders can obtain tickets up to an hour before the screenings of their choice. And everyone else can angle for rush tickets at the last minute. If a movie does not sell out, leftover seats become available 15 minutes before show time, and all rush tickets are priced at $10.

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