THIS FESTIVAL THING is out of control. And that’s good.
Once upon a time in many parts of the world, there began feast days to celebrate one saint or another. These were times to gather with one’s neighbors to eat, drink, dance, repeat.
In this country nowadays, we have feast days not so much about saints but around art forms (i.e., September’s Port Townsend Film Festival and Arts & Draughts in Port Angeles), passions (this weekend’s Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival) and plants (Sequim Lavender Weekend in July). And there’s a new kid on this block: the “multidisciplinary” or “boutique” festival such as THING, which took over Fort Worden State Park 10 days ago.
Alongside the flock of up-to-the-minute bands, tantalizing food trucks and groovy artisan booths, THING had the Luminarium, a pedestrian-friendly light-color-balloon-catacomb experience. It had crack podcasters doing their thing on stage: Luke Burbank and Andrew Walsh of “Too Beautiful to Live,” Chris Gethard of “Beautiful/Anonymous” and Hollywood actor Stephen Tobolowsky of “The Tobolowsky Files.”
On Day 2 of THING, I hit sensory overload. So I slipped inside the deliciously dark McCurdy Pavilion where Tobolowsky — who’ll be right back for the Sept. 19-22 Port Townsend Film Festival — was on next.
Yes, the hot acts like John C. Reilly and Friends, Tank and the Bangas and Calexico and Iron & Wine had thrilled the throngs with ferocity, soul and style. So by Sunday evening, this reporter was ready for a rest. When I laid eyes on the McCurdy stage, empty save for tall Mike Stand, I let out an “ahhh.”
Tobolowsky, bless his heart, proceeded to hold us in the palm of his hand. He delivered a personal story about the time when his acting career was taking off and he had two jobs practically back to back: first on a television series and then on the Mel Gibson-Goldie Hawn movie “Bird on a Wire.” The shooting schedules and contracts became entangled, as did his agent, the $400- to $600-an-hour lawyers and the actors’ union.
It could have devolved into a mess, this story. But Tobolowsky is a consummate one-man show.
In telling his tale, he illustrated how to keep from overloading listeners with overmuch detail, and instead impart the essence of what happened. As the storyteller, you must take people on a journey — from what’s obvious to what’s hidden. Therein lies the wondrous payoff.
It’s also good if you can have a mention of George Clooney in there, which Tobolowsky did, since Clooney was his castmate on the aforementioned TV show.
I won’t give away any more of his saga, in case he reprises it at the film festival. I will say the guy renewed my faith in storytelling — be it through movies, journalism or a lone person speaking from the heart.
The Port Townsend Film Festival (PTfilmfest.com) has all of the above. Besides Tobolowsky’s presentations, scores of other filmmakers come to town, ready to talk about how their projects went from idea to screen.
And like the various big events that fill the four seasons, from May’s Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts in Port Angeles to THING at Fort Worden, the film fest is a chance to start up conversations with those artists — and with strangers on the street.
“What have you seen that you liked?” I ask people. Their answers help me chance on a fabulous band or film that I wouldn’t have found on my own.
As Tobolowsky said: There’s the obvious and there’s the hidden. To discover the latter, we need the storytellers around us.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.
Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Sept. 18.
Reach her at [email protected]