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The fourth Women & Film festival is dedicated to a woman whose passion for cinema, storytelling and community helped inspire the female-focused project of the Port Townsend Film Festival to be established.
“Beloved Marcia,” said festival director Janette Force of Marcia Perlstein, who died Feb. 25, 2018. “She was really the voice of our festival.”
And, she was a voice – quite literally. Every year, Perlstein would go through the festival program to find directors, actors and screenwriters to interview on her radio show, “Treasures and Pleasures,” on KPTZ-FM 91.9.
“‘I want to meet this person, this person, this person,’” Force recalled Perlstein as saying. “Because of her many years working as a teacher and her activism for social justice and gay rights, (Perlstein) could really connect with these filmmakers, who were all making nontraditional choices.”
She was a good listener, Force said, and “she was really engaged.”
By the time the filmmakers interviewed by Perlstein had arrived at the festival, “they already felt like part of the family,” Force said.
Force first worked with Perlstein as a reviewer for the Port Townsend Film Festival, watching films to be considered for the program.
“As a film reviewer, you’re seeing a lot of films,” Force said.
She noted many of those films she saw were not that great and recalled watching some that were terrible and mundane.
“What I loved about Marcia is that she could find a redeeming quality in anything … her eye for the human experience and her compassion shone through in a way that causes me still to look at art in new ways,” Force said. “Marcia encouraged all of the reviewers not to indulge themselves and just completely trash a film.”
Sometimes those artists might want feedback.
“We wanted to be able to give them useful information,” she said.
It was Perlstein’s support of filmmaking and community that inspired the founding of Women & Film in 2012.
“We just had so many amazing films that we couldn’t show all of them (at the September festival),” Force said.
The idea for a smaller focus was proposed.
Force recalled Perlstein saying, “We could do women and film.”
That first year of the mini festival, Force thought it would be simple.
“I don’t know what I was thinking!” she said, laughing.
As it turned out, Women & Film was much like its parent festival, just on a smaller scale.
“All of a sudden, it came into sharp focus that this was a festival with the same moving parts,” Force said. “It was a real voyage of discovery.”
In comparing Women & Film to the main festival, Force said she likes the intimacy a festival of this size allows. Each year, the festival starts off with all of the visiting filmmakers attending a sit-down dinner.
“That opportunity to sit and make eye contact with every single artist … it sets the tone for the weekend,” Force said.
This year’s program features 12 films and is to be attended by 14 guest filmmakers. On the program of films to be shown, there are documentaries like “Mary Janes: The Women of Weed,” which brings to light the wide diversity of female leaders in the cannabis industry.
“In a billion-dollar industry that’s just happening, women are driving the bus,” Force said.
The program also includes a drama/romance film directed by Australian writer Romi Trower, “What If It Works?” in which a technology nerd with obsessive-compulsive disorder and a street artist with multiple-personality disorder meet in therapy; and a documentary Force is particularly looking forward to, “Catching Sight of Thelma & Louise,” directed by Jennifer Townsend. Soon after watching “Thelma & Louise” in 1991, Townsend collected responses and reactions from those who saw the film.
Twenty years later, she located those people and asked the same questions.
“It is just fascinating,” she said. “We’ve come a long way (since “Thelma & Louise”), but not long enough.”
In talking about the role of women in and behind the scenes of film, Force also cited the work of “Thelma & Louise” star Geena Davis, who, troubled by the small number of women in media and the film industry, founded the Institute on Gender in the Media.
“Boy, that number is tiny,” Force said of what the studies revealed. “But not in my festival!”
Women & Film is set for April 14-15. Films will be screened at The Rose Theatre, including its Rosebud Cinema and, new this year, the Starlight Room.
Seats in the Starlight Room tend to fill up quickly, Force said, so she encourages people to get their passes early.
The festival also includes a special event April 14 at the Cotton Building, “Women Speak Out: Filmmakers Break the ‘Rules’ Without Apology.”
“I love this part,” Force said. “Filmmakers are, in fact, wonderful storytellers.”
Force reflected on those people, like Perlstein, whom the festival has lost: Chris Martin, a “tech guru,” and founders Jim Ewing and Peter Simpson.
“I’m standing on the shoulders of giants,” Force said. “It’s impossible to do this work alone.”
She recalled the legacy of Perlstein, whose enthusiasm and support of the life-saving nature of the arts touched so much of the community: “She was such a mensch.”