DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Service dogs, movie houses and randomness

EVERYDAY WISDOM FALLS into my lap like fruit — if I pay attention.

Take last Friday afternoon. I got an email from Jan Halliday, Port Townsend Film Festival sorceress. It contained answers to my jumble of questions about the cinema circus this weekend.

And yes, some juicy wisdom.

With 45 years of magazine and newspaper journalism to her credit, Halliday became festival marketing and development director in 2014. “Development” means fundraising, pitching to potential sponsors and donors. More money means better films, more venues, more activities and more directors, actors and producers from around the globe.

Halliday was given a job description that intimidated her with its length and complexity. She put it in a drawer. And went out to talk to people.

“Turns out that years of successfully pitching stories and ideas to editors made raising money for the festival easier,” she said.

“I’m used to asking for what I need in a clear way,” and staying open.

Here’s some Halliday wisdom: When you talk to a source, widen your ears. Let him or her expand on the conversation. Do not presume you already know the answers to your questions.

Not only has Halliday brought in dozens of sponsors for the festival’s 90-plus films, but she’s ushered in new events and scholarships for film students.

If the woman were a movie, she’d be a box office smash.

This year, “One of our sponsors asked me, out of the blue, if we had anything about animals she could support at a higher rate,” Halliday told me.

Calling around found “Pick of the Litter,” a documentary about five Labrador retriever puppies training to be service dogs.

Festival bartender Marty Gilmore’s wife Marta Krissovich raises guide dogs; one conversation led to another and Halliday pulled together the debut of Dogs on Taylor.

The event stars three real, live service-dog training organizations, all demonstrating their skills from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday.

They’ll set up on Taylor Street in front of the Rose Theatre, where “Pick” will screen at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Then there was the day earlier this month when she was sitting at her desk, drinking cold coffee.

A woman new to Port Townsend walked in and gave the festival $3,000.

“The next day she came again and gave us $3,000 more. And she had a guide dog with her.

“I ask myself, ‘Did we call her in?,’ because in my work as a writer, if I’m thinking about a guide dog, suddenly they’re everywhere.

“It’s what I like about this job: all the networking and the randomness and the coincidences, and it’s what I like about writing too.”

One of the things I like about the Port Townsend Film Festival is that flocks of humans sit down together in peace.

We gather at the Rose, the Starlight Room and the Key City Playhouse — aka the Peter Simpson Free Cinema — and at makeshift theaters inside the American Legion, the Cotton Building and the Northwest Maritime Center.

We sit in rented seats, paid for via Halliday’s “Goldilocks and the Three Chairs” direct mail campaign.

To my mind those rooms and those seats equalize us, if only for a couple of hours. Journalist that she is, Halliday describes it in lean prose.

“We’re all in a dark room having a new experience with a film. We bring to it the sum total of everything we’ve experienced, observed, read, thought about.

“But sitting there in the dark, a good film sweeps all this away,” she said, “and pulls us into a completely different reality … our collective dream.”


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. 3.

Reach her at Creodepaz@yahoo.com.

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