Running the gauntlet: Day two

Posted 9/25/19

Day two


One of the first things a viewer of the HBO documentary “Ernie & Joe” is likely to notice is that Texas cops Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro don’t dress or respond in ways many of us might have come to expect from law enforcement.

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Running the gauntlet: Day two


Day two


One of the first things a viewer of the HBO documentary “Ernie & Joe” is likely to notice is that Texas cops Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro don’t dress or respond in ways many of us might have come to expect from law enforcement.

Clad in pressed polo shirts and jeans, the two members of the San Antonio Police Department’s mental health unit are still called out by 911, but when they arrive, they’re likely to sit down and chat casually with individuals they have reason to believe might pose a danger to themselves or others.

Stevens and Smarro not only seek to de-escalate potential conflicts, but also help train fellow police officers to do the same, while fulfilling many duties that are more commonly associated with social workers, by steering people away from incarceration and toward mental health treatment.

Stevens tells the cameras that he considers himself lucky to have been assigned Smarro as a partner, and the easygoing, occasionally even lighthearted rapport between the two officers probably helps them cope with daunting realities such as the fact that they can only respond to a fraction of the mental health-related calls that their police department receives.

Stevens is shown to be an empathetic man of faith, whose instincts as a father serve him well in cases involving children, and Smarro is impressive for overcoming traumas such as his own childhood molestation, while also using his background as a Marine to connect with those suffering psychic injuries related to their own military service.

In one particularly haunting recollection, Smarro describes how a potential suicide finally pushed himself off a bridge without a sound, in spite of Smarro’s best efforts to talk him down, and how incongruous it seemed to Smarro that the man didn’t even cry out as he fell.

Port Townsend Police Chief Mike Evans and Navigator Jud Hayes attended a post-screening question-and-answer session with Stevens, as Evans explained that Hayes’ duties for the Port Townsend Police Department would be similar to those of Stevens and Smarro.

“I think it’s telling that the first scene in this film showed police officers shooting someone when it wasn’t needed, and midway through the film, we hear about two officers getting shot,” Evans said. “We’re all hurting, and we all need help, so let’s just do good.”


Another block of eight short films, this time all centered around the theme of careers and employment, started with the quick and hilarious “The Job,” which inverts the typical dynamic between white-collar workers and migrant day laborers to literally laugh-out-loud effect.

A married lesbian couple of mountain bikers and pizza parlor co-owners in a small Colorado town are profiled in “Life of Pie.”

The film explores how they’ve created a safe space for folks who might otherwise feel like misfits in their relatively conservative community, woven around engaging tracking shots of the two women as they pedal through the surrounding wilderness’ hills and valleys.

“The Shearer” utilizes richly detailed cinematography to capture the work of master sheep shearer Jonathan Hearne and his adult son Ben, while “Eighth Wonder” and “The Last Trap Family” offer slightly different shadings of small, privately-owned commercial fishing companies.

In “Eighth Wonder,” a formerly studious marine biologist finds her true self by forming a fishing company in Bristol Bay, Alaska, with a rowdy, ragtag bunch of young guys whom she used to babysit.

“The Last Trap Family” follows third-generation Rhode Island trap fisher Corey Forrest as she outlines the practical challenges of keeping her family’s business solvent.

Hurricane Sandy devastated former celebrity bodyguard Billy Durney’s native Brooklyn, but it did nothing to discourage his plans to open a barbecue restaurant there.

“Hometown” documents how Durney used the sole remaining barbecue cooker he could salvage from the floods to feed his neighbors in need.

“Hometown” joins “Safe Haven” in the ranks of heartwarming documentary shorts about projects to improve big-city communities, as “Safe Haven” illustrates the hometown pride that the installation of an artificial rock wall-climbing gym gave to the youth of murder-plagued Memphis, Tennessee.

“My Paintbrush Bites” rounds out the documentary shorts with a study of a former racehorse, Metro Meteor, who was coaxed into painting abstract canvases, with a paintbrush between his teeth, by the older couple who adopted him, after his racing career ended due to health issues.

The emotional bond between the horse and his owners is as strong as any between a pet and their humans, and the man who “taught” Metro to paint expresses heartfelt pride in the animal’s accomplishments.


The documentary short “Lotte That Silhouette Girl” encapsulates the brief career of German film animation pioneer Lotte Reiniger, whose own voiceover narration explains how she went from being a film buff as a child to entering the world of stage productions, before she became a silhouette animator and invented the multiplane camera, an early innovation that allowed multiple layers to be filmed at multiple speeds to enhance animation’s sense of depth.

While her artistic career was cut short when she was forced to flee from the Nazis in the 1930s, six of her silhouette animation shorts were shown in Port Townsend, complete with musical and sound effects accompaniment (and even some voiceover work) by the performing duo of David Miles Keenan and Nova Karina Devonie, a.k.a. Miles and Karina.

The two likewise scored and provided sound effects for the Port Townsend Film Festival’s screening of Buster Keaton’s “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” last year.

Two of Reiniger’s 1928 installments in “The Adventures of Dr. Dolittle” — “The Journey to Africa” and “The Lion’s Den” — showed the star of Hugh Lofting’s children’s books developing characteristically amicable relationships with wild animals, while the fairy tale trappings of “The Secret of the Marquise” and “The Tocher” turned out to be humorous stealth advertisements for Nivea skin cream and the Post Office Savings Bank, respectively.

“The Grasshopper and the Ant” was the only silhouette animated short shown that was made after the 1930s — in 1954 — and Miles and Karina consulted the original script for their dialogue, although the line in which the ant refers to the grasshopper as a “lazy musician” was Karina’s invention.

“Normally, we choose not to listen to the scores that were originally written for these pieces,” Karina said. “They’re such inspiring works that we come up with our own ideas for melodies and action cues.”

Reiniger’s voiceover narration in “Lotte That Silhouette Girl” expresses an affinity for the harshness of the original Grimm Brothers fairy tales.

Reiniger opined that real life itself can be pretty brutal, but it’s notable that even her 1922 adaptation of “Sleeping Beauty” features a fairly happy ending.


When the Port Townsend Film Festival asked Cheryl Strayed, author of the memoir “Wild,” to select a film that was a formative influence on her as an aspiring writer, she chose “My Brilliant Career” from 1979, based on the semi-autobiographical 1901 novel by Miles Franklin, a female writer who wrote under a male pseudonym in order to get published.

Set in the Australian farming country of the late 19th century, “My Brilliant Career” casts Judy Davis, who played French novelist George Sand in “Impromptu,” as a rebellious young would-be writer named Sybylla Melvyn, who’s asked to choose between the unlikely possibility of a literary career, versus the assured stability of a marriage to the handsome and affluent Harry Beecham, played by Sam Neill with almost as much devilish charm as he brought to “Omen III: The Final Conflict.”

“When young Sam Neill first appeared onscreen, I heard a lot of moaning in the audience,” Strayed laughed.

Both Strayed and Seattle Times arts critic Moira Macdonald first saw “My Brilliant Career” when they were 19 years old, years after the film’s initial release, and while Strayed acknowledged that many formative stories don’t necessarily stand the test of time as one grows older, “My Brilliant Career” is a film that she and Macdonald found even more meaningful now than they did when they first saw it.

“What I didn’t see before is that Sybylla is a bit of a drama queen,” Macdonald said. “But when she says not to be afraid to call her egotistical, that’s still resonant.”

“Even in 2019, we’re still grappling with the idea that women can be unapologetic,” Strayed said. “It’s a radical idea now, so it was really radical back then.”

Strayed praised the subtle ways in which Sybylla and Harry’s “erotic longing” was conveyed, in one scene via an extended pillow fight that sees the two characters chasing each other outdoors, until they lie together in an open field, with the pillows beneath their heads, exhausted “as if they’ve just made love.”

Even as Strayed admitted that a part of her wished Sybylla had accepted Harry’s offer of marriage, since the two characters shared a genuine love, Strayed nonetheless appreciates that the story recognized the reality of that era, that Sybylla could not have pursued her writing career even with a loving husband by her side.

“She says straight out, over and over again, that she’s never getting married, and no one believes her,” Strayed said. “Even the movie doesn’t fully believe her, because it builds up all these cues that seem to be leading to her getting married, but in the end, it honors the spirit of the novel, and the last kiss she gives is to her manuscript, before she mails it to the publisher.”


Stephen Tobolowsky’s “The Primary Instinct” was my favorite of all the films I saw on Friday.

“Phoenix, Oregon,” by writer-director Gary Lundgren and producer Anne Lundgren, was my favorite of all the films I saw on Saturday.

James Le Gros, whose work I last reviewed in the dramedy film “Support the Girls,” has a face that’s almost architecturally designed to convey resigned disgruntlement, which makes him a perfect choice to play Bobby, a bartender at a chintzy Italian restaurant who’s living in the airstream trailer he inherited from his mother.

Bobby’s also too timid to do anything with the $50,000 she left him, until his coworker, Carlos the chef, proposes they quit their jobs and open a bowling alley pizza parlor together.

The Lundgrens credited Le Gros, with whom they’ve worked before, with helping to attract a stellar ensemble cast.

This includes some faces audiences might find familiar, such as Lisa Edelstein from “House” as Bobby’s business partner and unrequited crush Tanya, and “Office Space” alumnus Diedrich Bader as Bobby and Carlos’ shamelessly abusive former boss Kyle.

The Lundgrens also got a lot of mileage out of Jesse Borrego as the relentlessly enthusiastic Carlos, and Kevin Corrigan as the insufferably arrogant, absurdly posturing repairman Al.

“Kevin was a bit nervous about his bowling scenes, because he’s not really a bowler,” Gary Lundgren said. “So we told him to just show off, as if he had talent, and he came up with all these little dance moves on his own.”

A subplot involving the graphic novel that Bobby has yet to finish allowed Gary Lundgren to avoid filming flashback scenes, which he dislikes.

“I love comics and graphic novels,” Lundgren said. “I thought framing the past through comic art was a neat narrative device, but I wasn’t sure if audiences wanted to look at a bunch of comic panels.”

Fortunately for Lundgren, he reported that audiences have responded well.

Lundgren also struggled with the story’s resolution, since he wanted to portray Bobby’s personal growth in a realistic manner, without being “too saccharin,” but he also wanted it to feel satisfying for the audience.

And yes, there is a Phoenix, Oregon, in real life, located between Ashland and Medford, even though the film was shot at an existing bowling alley in Klamath Falls.

“I always thought it was so weird that there was a Phoenix, Oregon, and like ‘Paris, Texas,’ I thought it worked as a film title,” Gary Lundgren said.


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