PORT TOWNSEND — Sorry, he won’t do the whistling belly-button trick recalled in “Groundhog Day.” But Stephen Tobolowsky, well-known for playing Ned Ryerson in that 1993 hit, will bring his varied skills to town for a party this September.
Joining writer Cheryl Strayed as a special guest at the Port Townsend Film Festival, Tobolowsky will appear in a couple of events: the Sept. 20 “Evening with Stephen Tobolowsky” featuring “The Primary Instinct,” his own documentary about storytelling, and a free, outdoor screening of “Groundhog Day” on Sept. 21.
Strayed, author of the best-selling “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” let festival Executive Director Janette Force know back in early June that she’d come to Port Townsend. And Force promised to announce another guest, just as soon as she could firm up plans.
She wanted Tobolowsky, had for a while, but he’d told her no, he can’t come because shooting of “One Day at a Time,” the Netflix series in which he plays a physician, would conflict with the Sept. 19-22 film festival.
But the show, a comedy about a Cuban-American family, was canceled. The actor told Force he could make it after all.
Then, late last month, Force was driving down the road listening to the radio. A story came on about how the Pop TV network had picked up “One Day;” the show would go on.
Force was shocked. Was her special guest gone?
No, no, shooting for new episodes won’t start till January 2020, Tobolowsky told her.
Now Force and crew are busy promoting their event — expanded to four days this year — and spreading the word that Tobolowsky is more than a character actor in more than 200 movies and television shows. He’s an ardent storyteller, hence the “Instinct” documentary, his Tobolowsky Files podcast, the blog Force describes as “beautiful” and his books, which include 2013’s “The Dangerous Animals Club” and 2017’s “My Adventures with God.”
It was Force’s friend Joseph Bednarik of Copper Canyon Press in Port Townsend who recommended Tobolowsky to her in the first place. Bednarik had interviewed him, she said, and wrote a glowing review of “Dangerous Animals” for The Oregonian. During the festival, Bednarik will interview Tobolowsky on stage during the Friday night event.
Lest the proceedings grow too serious, another activity is set for the following evening. Just before “Groundhog Day” lights the big screen on Taylor Street, a Ned Ryerson look-alike contest will be held.
Also Saturday night, Strayed will be the spotlighted interviewee. As part of the festival’s Formative Films program, she’s chosen a movie that has influenced her as an artist: “My Brilliant Career,” Gillian Armstrong’s 1979 drama about a young woman determined to become a writer.
“You have a wildness of spirit that’s going to get you into trouble all your life,” an older woman tells the heroine in “Brilliant,” which won six Australian academy awards.
“Cheryl has held this film close to her heart for a long time,” said Force.
More festival event announcements are in the offing. On Sept. 19, the Thursday just added to the festival, pass holders will be invited to an early evening celebration plus a screening of a movie that will be seen that night only. Force didn’t reveal the title, saying she’s waiting to see whether this will be the film’s U.S. premiere. A third special guest is yet another possibility.
Buyers of the six-pack, festival, concierge and patron passes, which start at $100, have first access to the festival’s special-event screenings. Information about purchasing passes awaits at PTFilmFest.com and 360-379-1333.
At the same time, the festival offers numerous free showings indoors and out. The giant screen erected on Taylor Street will have 2016’s “Moana” on Sept. 20, “Groundhog Day” on Sept. 21 and 1953’s “Roman Holiday” on Sept. 22; the other films, which number about 100, will be listed at PTFilmFest.com sometime in August.
Force, in her characteristic breathless fashion, describes herself as “such a fan” of Strayed, Tobolowsky — and most of all their art form.
This film festival, she said, “celebrates the incredible voices of these storytellers.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.