Port Townsend Film Festival

The Port Townsend Film Festival is known as a film lover's block party. The festival celebrates great films and filmmakers and features special celebrity guest appearances. 

A group of volunteers started the festival in 1999. The Port Townsend Film Institute, a non profit organization run mainly by volunteers, was formed to promote the festival.

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The festival debuted on September 22, 2000 after a full year of planning and organizing. The group contacted potential sponsors, recruited volunteers, rented venues and promoted the event far and wide. The group spent countless hours deciding what films to show and attaining the rights to show these films.

Luckily, they were able to enlist the support of Turner Classic Movies.

Port Townsend closed the downtown area of Taylor Street for three days to make room for the giant Turner Classic Movie outdoor theater. The first year of the festival, 24 documentaries, special features and shorts were screened in three different venues.

Port Townsend Film Festival

Port Townsend Film Festival. Reproduced under a Creative Commons license with the kind permission of PunkToad on Flickr

Recently, the offerings have increased to more than 50 presentations throughout the weekend, shown in seven different venues. These venues are:

  • The Uptown Theater – Located at Lawrence and Polk, the theater seats 315 people. It has only been a part of the festival for four years. Refreshments are available inside the theater, therefore you are asked not to bring any food or drinks from outside. Port A Potties are located outside on Polk St.
  • The Pope Marine Park theater – Located on Madison Street at Water, it holds 77 people. No restrictions are noted on bringing in your own food and drinks.
  • Peter Simpson Free Cinema – Located at Water and Monroe Streets, this theater can hold 100 film buffs. The free indoor cinema has been named to honor Peter Simpson, one of the founders and former executive director of the Port Townsend Film Festival. Seating is on a first come first served basis. You are advised to come at least half an hour before the scheduled screening. Start times at the various venues are staggered, so if you miss out on one seating, you still have time to head to another theater before the movie begins.
  • The Rose Theater and Rosebud Cinema – These venues are both located in the same building on Taylor Street. The Rose can seat 150 people and the Rosebud seats 77. This is the original home of the Port Townsend Film Festival. Rocky Friedman, the owner of the Rose, is one of the festival's founders. Concessions are available, therefore you are not allowed to bring any food or drinks from the outside.
  • Taylor Street Outdoor Cinema – Admission is free and seating is unlimited at this wonderful outdoor cinema. You may bring food and drinks or buy refreshments at the Rose Theater. There are plenty of straw bales to sit on, but you are encouraged to bring a blanket just in case the bales are all taken. Pets are not allowed as they may soil the straw. The festivities begin at 6:45 pm.
  • Upstage Restaurant and Theater – Located on Washington St. near the Rose theater, the Upstage has seating for 125.

Children under the age of six are only allowed at the outdoor Taylor Street Cinema.

How it Began

The Port Townsend Film Festival was the brain child of four film buffs. After attending a similar annual event in Telluride, Colorado for several years, the four, Rocky Friedman, owner of the Rose theater, Linda Yakush, Jim Ewing and Jim Westall decided this was just the type of event Port Townsend needed.

The group quickly realized the need for additional talent and recruited Peter Simpson, a poet, writer and manager of a candle factory. Peter remained an active member and became the festival director during its fifth season. He continued to serve as director until his death in 2009.

Various writers, independent film makers and actors attended many of the screenings for a question and answer period after the show. Time estimates of the length of the screenings include a little extra time for these discussions.

Sponsorship from Turner Classic Movies enabled the group to secure appearances by TCM host Robert Osborne and Tony Curtis that first year.

The phenomenal success of the first festival guaranteed this would be an annual event for many years to come.

Port Townsend Film Festival

Port Townsend Film Festival. Reproduced under a Creative Commons license with the kind permission of PunkToad on Flickr

The Festival experienced many ups and downs during the first ten years, but that is not uncommon for artistic organizations. The festival has been able to attract many big names and a slew of filmmakers from all over the world.

In addition to regular appearances by Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, the event has been honored by appearances from:

  • Tony Curtis – 2000
  • Eva Marie Saint – 2001
  • Patricia Neal – 2002
  • Screenwriter of “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Ugly American” Steward Stern – 2002
  • Peter Fonda and Shirley Knight – 2003
  • Jane Powell and Dickie Moore – 2004
  • Debra Winger and Arliss Howard – 2005
  • Malcolm McDowell – 2006
  • Elliot Gould – 2007
  • Piper Laurie – 2008
  • Cloris Leachman – 2009
  • Dyan Cannon – 2010

With the continued dedication of the four remaining founders and hundreds of talented and committed volunteers, the Port Townsend Film Festival has secured its position on the calender of local events. As well as its position in the hearts of a growing number of film buffs and filmmakers.

The generous donations from over one hundred businesses and individuals fund the year round educational experiences offered by the Port Townsend Film Festival. Contributions help fund daily operations directly impacting nearly every aspect of the festival. This includes acquiring the films, renting the venues, and marketing the Port Townsend Film Festival to ensure it continues to grow and attract more great visitors and fabulous guest speakers.

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