DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Lines, stories, movies: They’re all connected

“MY NORMAL FRIENDS say to me, ‘Oh, no, you have to stand in those lines.’ But that’s the best part,” Jane Julian said to me this past weekend.

Julian’s job involves watching hundreds of documentary and feature films, choosing a mix of them for a given film festival and then attending various festivals all over creation. She’s also skilled in the art of the conversation, so she talks with people standing beside her in line and in the movie theater.

One chance meeting at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, led to the happily accidental appearance of the narrative feature “Write When You Get Work” at our Port Townsend Film Festival this weekend.

Julian, you see, is the programmer of the fest, which brings more than nine dozen films to nine venues. With input from the rest of the staff, she picks the docs and the features, as well as what times they’re shown and where. June into August, the supersized program grid is spread out like a cinematic jigsaw puzzle on her kitchen table. You can see the finished opus at PTFilmFest.com.

One day during “South by,” as it’s called by the in crowd, she turned to the couple seated next to her in the theater. The conversation was fun and interesting right away, Julian recalled. It soon became clear that the woman in this couple is a filmmaker. Julian asked her if she had a film at the festival.

The woman is Stacy Cochran, screenwriter-director-producer and overall cool person. She did in fact have “Write When You Get Work” at South by Southwest. She later provided Julian with a private link to the 2018 film.

Starring Emily “Mary Poppins Returns” Mortimer and Finn Wittrock, “Write” is a love saga set in Manhattan. As Cochran told WomenandHollywood.com, “The story just floated to me on a breeze of love for New York and the cacophony of people who live here.” It’s an exploration of “being in love with the one who drives you crazy.”

After viewing the screener, Julian thought: This movie would be great for Port Townsend. Cochran let her know, though, that it would soon be available on Amazon. Maybe she wouldn’t want it after all?

Julian doesn’t rule out films that are on such streaming platforms. If she did, her film festivals would have exceedingly slim pickings.

As for me, I don’t care at all whether a festival movie is available for streaming at home. Another thing I refuse to bother with are the rotten reviews. I’ll make up my own mind, thank you.

The reason for my avid film festival-going — I look forward all year long to these packed weekends — is the chance to experience cinematic art on the big screen with big empathy and big sound.

The rich frosting — possibly the most delicious part — is talking to strangers about it all. Inside or outside a movie house, it’s possible to “visit,” in that satisfying way people did on their back porches.

My spouse and I often don’t choose the same films. So I go alone to screenings and, while waiting in line, shamelessly chat up and visit with the person randomly next to me.

Julian and I talked about how we now see many people bent over their cellphones. And I admit: Being a shy, awkward person when not in my reporter role, sometimes I too get behind the blasted device. Julian inspired me to make that conscious decision to put it in the backpack.

“And see what happens,” she said. How I love that idea.


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 Oct. 2.

Reach her at [email protected]