Tag Archives: photos

Film Festival Report

(Click on photos for full size.)


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

(Click on photos for full size.)


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. (https://invisiblemikey.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/goodbye-puppy-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. (https://invisiblemikey.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/career-change/)  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

Indomitable Spirit

(You can click the photos to enlarge.)

r2ak 1

It’s been some time since I’ve written here to celebrate the creativity and courage of people in my beautiful little town at the tip of the country. During the 2013 Wooden Boat Festival some members of our NW Maritime Center decided to sponsor a boat race from here to Alaska, the longest one of its kind ever attempted under (mostly) scientific scrutiny. Continue reading


Filed under photos, Travel

Essential Cuban Films You Should Know

Originally posted on Flavorwire:

This week, President Obama’s lift of the 54-year-long American trade embargo against Cuba — which would ease restrictions on travel and financial activities, normalizing relations with the country — was announced. But different generations of Cubans are processing different feelings about the historic move. The economic crisis in Cuba that resulted from the embargo, and the country’s war-torn history, has been the subject of many films. Throughout the history of Cuban cinema, filmmakers have explored sociopolitical issues and the country’s shifting identity. Here are a few films to put on your radar before exploring Cuban cinema for the first time.

View original 573 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting, Cinema, Travel

Goodbye, Puppy Boy

Finn in grass

Next week our latest service dog trainee Finnegan will be returned for his final phase of intensive instructions. We will be finishing up the socialization of another dog for about five months. This puppy was raised with a very different regimen than Spice, our guide dog for the blind trainee. Spice, the yellow Lab, was strong and steady, with muscles like a gladiator. She’s been navigating for her new owner over a year now, and they are both doing extremely well. Having Spice made it possible for Jeremy to go to college, to fulfill his ambition of becoming a music professor.

Finn big smile

Finnegan is strong too, but he’s a bundle of potential energy, like a coiled spring. He’s highly reactive, curious about any kind of novel stimulus, and whip-smart. Finn was originally considered to become a mobility assistance dog for a wounded veteran, but he didn’t grow big enough for that job. Now he’s going to be trained to be a therapeutic companion for a young autistic boy.

soft curly

I can see how much better an alternative this will be for the dog and the boy. Finnegan has an expressive face and a wide array of verbalizations. It can help model correct behavioral responses for an autistic child. Though this pup is cheerful by default, you can tell right away if he isn’t. For the most part, the only thing that gives him the blues is not getting a new challenge every day. Autism provides new challenges. Finnegan is hypoallergenic, and his soft, curly coat makes petting him more inviting for a hypersensitive child. Having him will be a social advantage for the boy, because others want to approach if you have a cute dog.  It can also make walking easier.

Finn loves to solve puzzles to get food, play with any toy that makes noise, and he will retrieve anything you care to throw. It took him a few months to understand our old lady cat is NOT a toy that makes noise, and that she’s not interested in playing tag, even though she will greet him nose-to-nose. He has taken that lesson (go gently with little beings) and applied it to infants and toddlers, with hardly any encouragement from us. He accepts kisses, hugs and petting from small children very well, and doesn’t jump on them.

Gentle Leader

Ever since we took him to Seattle and gave him a successful big city experience, Finn has been more confident, calmer and easier to work with. His biggest challenge is a tendency to pull ahead if he gets excited, but using a “gentle leader”, which fits over his nose, prevents this behavior. If you put a kibble inside your hand, he stays glued to your hip, matching your speed even without a leash. He relieves easily on grass, gravel or dirt using the command “hurry”. In the year we’ve been raising him, he never once had an accident inside the house. Don’t you wish your child was that easy to toilet train?

Lab and WheatonLongshot Mutt StrutMary at Table

Last week’s big activity was a visit to the local Rotary Club’s “Mutt Strut”. It’s an annual fundraiser to support their charitable projects, with products, lectures and assorted activities available for dogs and owners. There are many breeds I have no direct experience with, and I want to keep learning. They offered a long walk and informal contests including “cutest dog”, “most obedient” and “most unusual trick”.

Dogs greetingFinn watching

The Rotarians provided water in buckets, and policed the area keeping the encounters positive and well controlled. Though dozens of dogs were present, I heard very little in the way of distressed or confrontational barking. Finnegan was there to practice self-control, and he enjoyed observing the contests. We made sure he had as many experiences with small children as possible.

Hairy and AlanGrand Marshall Hairy Putter, and his dad, Alan Ahtow.


I’ve become attuned to a different balance in the four years since we moved from El Lay, vortex of cinematic fabulosity, to this picturesque Victorian seaport of 9,000. Where we used to live, animals (aside from humans) were perceived as lesser beings, as property, or as a food source. But deer roam the streets and yards here, eagles swoop above the trees, and songbirds, squirrels and rabbits share our grounds. In this town, there is less of a hard boundary between domesticated animals, wild animals, and people. And residents are advocating to make more places pet-friendly. It comes from a motivation to live harmoniously in nature, instead of competing and trying to control it.

Seeing the different dogs and owners made me remember why we raise these dogs. It’s part of our “fix what you can” philosophy. I can’t solve the wars of the world, or make politics more civil. I can’t control humankind wasting Earth’s bounty, or find a vaccine for Ebola. But I can take good radiographs, making it easier for the doctors to diagnose and treat. And Mary and I can help train the right kind of dog to assist others in need.  Our next pup in training will be a little Havanese, like this one.



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

What the Hobby Lobby Ruling Means

meh(Picked this up via stephtheawesome on tumblr.)

Here’s another link to this popular meme: https://twitter.com/bakerbk/status/483642132750553090


Filed under Ethics and Morality, humor

Getting Back in Tune

Did you know?It’s a dangerous world, but when bad things happen I’m usually somewhere else. I don’t plan it that way by avoiding all risk, but I do try to proactively move toward the light. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, photos, Travel