Film Festival Report

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Until this year I have been at work when my little town’s film festival occurred. I’ve been to film festivals in big, medium and small cities. I don’t think population correlates to quality. A small town festival can sometimes risk showing edgier films, and the special guests are more unusual choices. The 16th Annual Port Townsend Film Festival just ended. In three days I saw a dozen features, an equal number of shorts and hosted screenings with Beau Bridges, Chris Cooper and Marianne Leone Cooper.


PTFF presented a large number of Q&A sessions with actors and filmmakers from the features after the screenings. There were revival showings of beloved previous productions, and free showings in and outdoors. Our festival officially opens by driving the featured guests up a two-block parade route in classic cars, to the strains of a circus-themed brass band. We prefer ceremony with a touch of the absurd. It’s very Fellini.


The things that move and impress us as viewers are entirely personal. I chose films reflecting my own interests. These were my three favorite features:

Landfill Harmonic

There are more people living next to a dump near the capitol of Paraguay than live in my whole town. Their homes are shacks with no indoor plumbing. They support themselves picking through mountains of refuse by hand, selling what they can recycle. An environmental engineer named Favio Chavez was sent to try and create more sustainable water. But the Cateura landfill lies in an unstable flood plain. If the rains are heavy, the “neighborhood” can wash away. The water project failed.

Fortunately, Favio had also initiated another project in his spare time. He noted that the residents, despite owning so little, were excited and engaged by music they heard on radios and cassettes rescued from the trash. He teamed up with one who had carpentry experience, they began fashioning orchestral instruments out of the garbage, and Favio taught the children of the workers to play classical music. The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura was born. This documentary follows the inspirational success of this act of transforming garbage into art.

Becoming Bulletproof

Zeno Mountain Farms runs camps for differently-abled individuals, and recently they have held Actors Camps in Los Angeles producing narrative shorts starring their guests and volunteers. Their latest was a western entitled “Bulletproof”. This is the behind-the-scenes story of how it was made, focusing on challenges each of the actors had to overcome in preparation and performance. I met Jeremy, who plays “Bulletproof Jackson”, the hero. He’s sweet and funny and very sociable.

Sweet Land

This kind of ultra-low budget filmmaking is very dear to me. The writer-director, Ali Selim, worked on the script for over a decade, studios large and small all said no, and Selim, with a cadre of talent who believed in the project, made the feature anyway for a measly million dollars. It’s got everything I love in movies; authentic behavior from a talented cast, beautiful locations and cinematography, effective music, and a story about something of timeless importance.

Sweet Land is a love story. A non-English speaking mail-order bride arrives in rural Minnesota right after World War I. She’s multilingual, and obviously the most sophisticated person around, but Inge (Elizabeth Reaser) experiences prejudice and bigotry from most of the locals. All she has to sustain her is her own spirit, and the confused support of her fiancé Olaf (Tim Guinee), Olaf’s neighbor/friend Frandsen (Alan Cumming), and Frandsen’s wife, Brownie (Alex Kingston). The couple endures being shunned by the town, having to harvest their crops alone. And it all comes out in their favor through acts of faith and generosity I won’t reveal. Make sure you have tissues. I cried for fifteen minutes.

This extraordinary labor of love was released in 2005, and never got a national distribution, though you can purchase it on DVD. It made its money back gradually, from limited runs at art houses like our local Rose Theater. It’s a gem that deserves to be better known and seen. As producer Jim Bigham said during the Q+A, “It got released the same week as Eddie Murphy’s Norbit, and nobody’s talking about that film ten years later.”

Invited guests Beau Bridges and Chris Cooper presented a Q+A called “The Art of Acting”. Beau made the point that he regards acting as a craft rather than an art, considering things like music or writing arts. Personally, I think every art requires education (sometimes self-education), technique and practice, which is the craft part. Perhaps he just isn’t as familiar with how much craft there is behind the arts he doesn’t pursue full time.

Beau was gregarious and charming, telling funny stories about working with his brother and father. Acting is a common profession in the Bridges family. By contrast, Chris Cooper is the first actor in his. He and his wife Marianne, an actor and writer, met in acting class. All three of these actors were inspired and trained by teachers who developed their own styles based on a system of techniques originated by Konstantin Stanislavsky. Various versions and interpretations of Stanislavski’s system include “method” acting (Lee Strasberg), “the reality of doing” (Sanford Meisner), and “discovering your talent through making choices”(Stella Adler).

Beau and his actress daughter Emily wrote a play based on Richard Boleslavsky’s “Acting: the First Six Lessons”, a book by Stanislavski’s student, given to Beau by his father, actor Lloyd Bridges. He also spoke about reading notes about a performance by his mother written by Michael Chekhov, who Stanislavski considered one of his brightest students. Chris and Marianne studied in New York with Wynn Handman, another tributary of this tradition by way of Meisner.

Chris also related lessons he learned working with notable actors like Robert DeNiro (Stella Adler student), and how watching the film adaptation of Steinbeck’s East of Eden as a child was a formative experience. East of Eden stars James Dean and Jo Van Fleet, both students at the Actors Studio under co-founders Strasberg and Elia Kazan, who directed the movie.  Chris won an Oscar playing a toothless, maniacal, flower-obsessed nerd in the film Adaptation.

Marianne Leone hosted a screening of “My Left Foot”, a film that became useful for her toward understanding and helping advocate for her son Jesse, who had Cerebral Palsy. After Jesse’s unexpected death, she wrote a book about their 17 years together, which I’m reading now (review to follow). Marianne admired our service pup trainee, and was open and warm about her experiences raising a differently-abled child.

Chris Cooper will be back in my little town next year, along with writer-director John Sayles, to shoot a feature film, the first one we’ve been a location for since 1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman”. Production is scheduled to begin a couple of months after my retirement next spring, so I’m going to see if I can audition or be otherwise involved in some small way. Wish me luck!



Filed under Acting, Cinema, photos

Three Dogs at a Graduation

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I’m very, very busy, and full of fresh emotions. In what feels like a very short span of time we sent Finnegan (Goldendoodle superstar) off to college, accepted a unique, tiny Havanese female (Fresca) at the end of her training, and began work with the youngest pup so far, an energetic yellow Labradoodle I named Chili.


Finnegan’s path to find a perfect partner was not straight. You might remember from earlier articles that he was first expected to be a mobility assistant for a vet who had chosen and bonded with him as a puppy. Once Finn was grown, they weren’t properly compatible in size. The last time I wrote about him, it looked as if he would be the companion for an autistic boy. (  But that family had another established dog, and Finnegan and the other dog were competing for hierarchy in their home. The best match for both dog and handler came on his third attempt.

As our mentor-trainer put it, “When it’s really right, it’s magic.” Finnegan and Kaylen chose each other, and connected profoundly from their first meeting. Kaylen’s got Cerebral Palsy. It impacts her voluntary muscle control enough that she was unable to get around without using a wheelchair, or leaning on an adult. She’s 16, a sophomore in high school. Every teenager I know is intent on achieving independence, on becoming an adult. Kaylen is no exception. Having a canine assistant for walking stability and small tasks who she commands, who depends on her for his care, was the right solution. She’s excited to be the only student who gets to bring her dog to class.  They need each other, and together they can achieve more. It’s already an epic tale of love and persistence.

Kaylen’s parents both work in service professions. Dad’s a policeman; Mom’s a Nurse Manager. Her twin brother, Ryan, is into math and science. She has a good friend her own age who was at the ceremony. They became pals when Maddie organized fundraising to help the family afford the dog. Her dedicated Physical Therapist was at graduation too. Everyone has a role in this process, and all the parts matter. I could see exactly how all good intentions and efforts connect in a system. It’s the kind of lucid moment that confirms I have truly lived, that my life gains value when I do something to help.


In the few months we had her, Fresca taught us a lot. We had never trained (or owned) a small breed, and I was unsure most days that I was doing it right. But she had a personality so much larger than her 6-pound size. She was physically fearless, and it got her into serious trouble once. She dove off the couch in pursuit of our alpha cat, slid partway under a table at full speed, and broke both bones of her forearm. Her Orthopedic Surgeon had worked previously repairing dogs from combat units in the Middle East. She gained a plate and screws, and called a truce with the cat. After the incident, they slept side by side for the rest of the time we had her.

Fresca’s the most gung-ho dog I’ve met yet, enthusiastic and cheerful about everything from eating to affection to training. Even a leg cast and having to wear “the cone of shame” around her neck didn’t get her down. It’s a kind of irrepressible positivity useful in her life with Luis, a charming vet who has an anxiety disorder and diabetes. Before he had Fresca, Luis had more difficulty managing stress, and it was sometimes a problem in his marriage. He told me it’s so much better with her in their lives. Fresca was always able to sense when I was in a bad mood or had a cold. She had a way of being solicitous, while simultaneously communicating, “Snap out of it, man. La vida esta buena!” (In my mind, she speaks with a Cuban accent.)


The third version of how things can work out in unexpected ways is happening right now with Chili. Regular readers might remember how our first service dog trainee was a spectacular failure at 19 weeks, and how upset I was over it. (  I have a different perspective now. That dog (Lilah) was just expressing her own personality, and we didn’t have enough experience to help train her using her own strengths. Now we’ve got one with a very similar personality, and the same set of challenges.


Chili’s whip smart, but extremely “mouthy”. She can be affectionate, but during play she sometimes goes wild, almost as if she’s attacking us. We’ve got a LOT of little puncture wounds on our arms and hands from those pin teeth, and there are dozens of new bite marks on furniture and the deck, divots in the lawn, and destroyed plants. The problem is that Chili is an infant with muscles and weapons. She craves love and interaction, doesn’t know how to focus her enormous energy, and doesn’t understand her destructive capability. It’s a bit like having a miniature professional wrestler in the house, one that doubles in size every few weeks.

On the very day we were considering giving up and having Chili sent back for “reeducation”, we got a card from Kaylen telling us we had helped change her life. Everything good connects to every other good thing. We rededicated to the task, found a new Puppy Kindergarten, took some private lessons with another trainer, and Chili’s behavior has improved vastly in the past two weeks. She’s been to church, and to the grocery store. She was able to make an appearance at graduation too, with sensible “time outs” in her crate. Next weekend we’re going to introduce her to the Port Townsend Film Festival.


Filed under animal communication, Emotions, Ethics and Morality, photos

Four Reasons–From A Christian Perspective–Why Kim Davis Is 100% Wrong

Source: Four Reasons–From A Christian Perspective–Why Kim Davis Is 100% Wrong


Filed under Ethics and Morality

But Money’s Fungible! Another Planned Parenthood & Federal Funds Myth Explained

Originally posted on nonsequiteuse:

Since 1976, neither Planned Parenthood nor any other healthcare provider has received federal Medicaid funds for the provision of abortion services, except in very rare instances of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother.

[By the way, even in those rare instances—rape, incest, life of the mother—clinics rarely receive reimbursement, or even apply, because the process is so onerous and the reimbursement so minimal.]

Cutting federal funds for Planned Parenthood, therefore, does not cut funds for abortion. It cuts funds for other medical services, like birth control (except abortion, as we’ve mentioned), testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, cancer screening and early treatment, and even vasectomies.

But money’s fungible!

Helpful men on the internet have been saying this to me all day.

The point they are trying to make is this:

  • A group needs pens and pencils, but they only have $100, enough for…

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Cowardly Lyin’

Originally posted on lou sight:

RIP Cecil. By now you know about the beloved lion, Cecil, who was lured away from a national park in Zimbabwe so that a dentist from Minnesota, Walter James Palmer, could have an opportunity to hunt Cecil outside the confines of the national park for $50,000.00. I won’t recount the gory details here. Suffice it to say, that while nothing will bring back Cecil the Lion, the public condemnation of Palmer’s big game hunt is forcing consequences that he obviously never imagined. In the face of serious threats, Palmer admitted to killing Cecil, but claimed that he was led to believe that the transaction and the hunt were legal. Whether or not they were legal, they were cowardly. And, at the very least, he’s lying to himself to convince himself that his hunting was justifiable.

Humans lie. Sometimes the lie is small and the consequences are insignificant beyond the immediate…

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Get Used To It

Invisible Mikey:

This one’s from three years ago. Sometimes I can see into the future :D

Originally posted on Invisible Mikey:

There’s more than one way to learn acceptance and understanding, but the fastest way I know is to make friends with people who are different than you are.

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the worst 65 hours

Invisible Mikey:

I still haven’t got the time to write much in this space. And on this subject, I haven’t got the words. This writer found them, and linked to pieces by others with something substantial to say.

Originally posted on thismonograph:

june 29th cover of the new yorkeri think almost everyone can say that the last 4 days or so have been incredibly rough, even if you’re not in charleston. i’ve spent a lot of time writing angry screeds and occasionally crying. but my emotions, i’m certain, pale in comparison to the kind of grief and anger those who have lost their loved ones in the charleston murders and those who feel the effects of racism and white supremacy on a daily basis. you can know a lot intellectually about white supremacy; you can read all the history books and the critical race theory literature. but when something like this happens, you can see for yourself the human cost of this kind of terrorism.

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