Stephen Tobolowsky’s depiction of Ned Ryerson in “Groundhog Day” has inspired a look-alike contest at the Port Townsend Film Festival this weekend. Tobolowsky will be on hand at an outdoor screening of his 1993 movie Saturday night.

Stephen Tobolowsky’s depiction of Ned Ryerson in “Groundhog Day” has inspired a look-alike contest at the Port Townsend Film Festival this weekend. Tobolowsky will be on hand at an outdoor screening of his 1993 movie Saturday night.

Lighting up the screens: Movies indoors and out in expanded PT Film Festival

PORT TOWNSEND — Today, it all begins.

Ninety-nine movies, a flock of visiting filmmakers and thousands of eyes on it all: the Port Townsend Film Festival, just expanded to four days.

The hospitality center, where there are printed programs, passes for sale and urns full of Sunrise coffee, opens at 11 a.m. at the Northwind Arts Center, 701 Water St., and evening brings the first of dozens of documentaries: “If You Could Read My Mind,” the story of Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian singer-songwriter who’s gone through a lot of changes.

The 7 p.m. event will take place in the newly renovated American Legion Hall at Water and Monroe streets, and is included with festival passes of all levels.

For those without passes, rush tickets will go on sale for $15 at 6:20 p.m.

The festival debuted 20 Septembers ago with four venues and no free cinema. This year has nine venues, three of them with no admission charge.

Friday through Sunday, the Peter Simpson Free Cinema — named for a festival cofounder — has 13 screenings in the Marina Room next to the Shanghai Chinese restaurant at 265 Hudson St.

Six more free screenings arrive at the Jefferson County Library, 620 Cedar Ave., Port Hadlock (

And after sundown Friday through Sunday, the outdoor screen in front of the Rose Theatre at 235 Taylor St. lights up with free family flicks.

Then there are some 75 more movie showings that do require a pass or a rush ticket.

Passes, which include year-round access to the festival’s film library, start at $40 and go up to the $1,500 Patron Pass. These, along with sponsoring businesses, are what fund the free events, executive director Janette Force noted.

Pass, venue and film details await at at the Northwind hospitality center, open till 6 p.m. this evening; from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Venues range from the 250-seat American Legion on down to the 45-seat Starlight Room; in between are the 158-seat Rose Theatre, the 100-seat Cotton Building, the 79-seat Rosebud, the 66-seat Key City Playhouse and the aforementioned Marina Room with 70 seats. Especially spacious is the seating area for those “movies under the stars” on the huge screen on Taylor Street.

This year’s outdoor features are Disney’s “Moana” on Friday night, “Groundhog Day,” featuring festival special guest Stephen Tobolowsky on Saturday, and “An American Tail,” Stephen Spielberg’s animated immigration story, on Sunday.

Festivities start at 7:30 each night, and while there will be straw-bale seating, Force encourages people to bring lawn chairs.

Just before Saturday’s screening, she also invites moviegoers to enter the Ned Ryerson look-alike contest inspired by Tobolowsky’s “Groundhog” character.

Cheryl Strayed, author of “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” and other books, is also a featured festival guest.

She’ll appear at Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. Formative Films program at the American Legion for an on-stage interview and a screening of “My Brilliant Career,” the 1979 movie she chose for the event.

And at 6:15 p.m. Friday in the Rose Theatre and 3 p.m. Saturday in the Starlight Room, Strayed and her husband, filmmaker Brian Lindstrom, will show their documentary short “We Are Forbidden,” about women and girls in Nepal. These events are open to pass holders and, till the venue fills up, to rush-ticket buyers.

Friday afternoon, the festival departs downtown for the Port Townsend High School auditorium showing of the documentary “The Weight of Water.”

The movie introduces Erik Weihenmayer, a blind outdoor adventurer who, after climbing Mount Everest, told fellow climber and filmmaker Michael Brown he wanted to kayak the Grand Canyon. Brown and film critic Robert Horton will discuss the trip, the movie — and the idea of taking on something that seems impossible.

This event will start at 2:10 p.m. Friday at Port Townsend High School, 1500 Van Ness, and Force urges people to come early; “it’s free to the public,” she said, “because that’s how we roll.”

Saturday morning brings another unusual discussion. The documentary “Ernie & Joe,” about San Antonio, Texas, police officers seeking compassionate treatment for people with mental health problems, will screen at 9:30 a.m. at the American Legion.

Afterward, the conversation will include Port Townsend Police Chief Michael Evans, Police Department navigator Judson Haynes, National Alliance on Mental Illness representative Valerie Phimister and “Ernie & Joe” director Jenifer McShane.

“Ernie & Joe,” both buddy film and real-life drama, shows a new way of policing, said Force. Bringing people together to see movies such as this — and to share insights afterward — “this is why I love my job,” she said.

Jane Julian, programmer of the Port Townsend Film Festival, is right there with her. Among the screenings she’s looking forward to is “Nothing Fancy,” the true story of Diana Kennedy, the “Mick Jagger of Mexican cooking.”

The film will screen at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the American Legion and 9:15 a.m. Saturday at the Rose Theatre, 235 Taylor St. Director Elizabeth Carroll and cinematographer Paul Mailman will be on hand to answer questions after both.

Kennedy, a British expatriate, is “such a whippersnapper,” Julian said. Now in her 90s, she has spent six decades exploring Mexican regional cuisines, lived off the grid outside Zitácuaro, Michoacán, and used solar energy to power her home.

Movies like this, Julian and Force hope, reveal the world in ways viewers might not expect.

“Maybe try something you don’t think you’re going to like,” Julian said. You might “walk away a little bit changed by what you’ve seen.”


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.

Nonagenarian, chef and environmental activist Diana Kennedy is the subject of “Nothing Fancy,” which will screen during the Port Townsend Film Festival.

Nonagenarian, chef and environmental activist Diana Kennedy is the subject of “Nothing Fancy,” which will screen during the Port Townsend Film Festival.

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