Arts and Entertainment

Wrap: Film Festival ‘Audience Choice’ | Guest Column

Left, composer Morten Lauridsen and Michael Stillwater, director of “Shining Night” pose for a family photograph, with the Friday Harbor Film Festival’s “Audience Choice” award in hand.   - Contributed photo / Peter Lauridsen
Left, composer Morten Lauridsen and Michael Stillwater, director of “Shining Night” pose for a family photograph, with the Friday Harbor Film Festival’s “Audience Choice” award in hand.
— image credit: Contributed photo / Peter Lauridsen

Submitted by producers of ‘Shining Night’

On Sunday evening, Oct. 13, at the final event of the Inaugural Friday Harbor Film Festival, featuring 25 unique documentaries on the theme of ‘The Pacific Rim’, the Audience Choice Award went to Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen.

Director Michael Stillwater, whose film has received awards at several festivals and been screened across America and Europe, flew in from his home in Switzerland, joining composer Lauridsen for the screenings on opening night and Sunday.

Deemed “a heartening rarity” by Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal, Shining Night affords viewers an interior glimpse into the mind and heart of a living legend in the field of choral music, whose summers spent on Waldron Island have resulted in some of the most beloved American choral music. The film opens at the fuel dock on Friday Harbor and ends on the beach at Waldron, blending island imagery throughout with a narrative by the composer, commentaries by musicians and poets, performances in America and Scotland, and a soundtrack featuring several of his masterworks.

Stillwater’s first release, co-produced with his wife, Doris Laesser Stillwater, was intended as a contemplative transmission rather than a journalistic study, with the hope of introducing a wider audience to Lauridsen’s music.

From all indications, this hope has been realized. The film, now broadcast on America’s largest public television network, KCET in Southern California, is also featured in choral festivals around the world.

(See viewer responses at

Stillwater, a former resident of Whidbey Island and Port Townsend, met with Lauridsen while filming the Song Without Borders documentary series, ‘In Search of The Great Song’. The series celebrates an underlying song living in everyone and investigates a pervasive fear of singing in people around the world.

Out of scores of interviewees, the one whose music had touched Stillwater and his wife for years was the distinguished composer Morten Lauridsen. A single interview and choir rehearsal sparked further filming, leading to travels with the composer and culminating in a 2012 premiere in Palm Springs. At the printer’s now is a companion gift book, ‘Morten Lauridsen’s Waldron Island Reflections’, featuring Stillwater’s photography and text from the film.

From Morten Lauridsen’s perspective, the film has allowed people entry into his world. Distinguished Professor of Composition at the USC Thornton School of Music and recipient of the National Medal of Arts, he is happy for the success of the film, as it allows him to share his insights about music, poetry, the creative process and life in the San Juans.

And as he said this weekend to those who attended the film screenings, the film festival here on San Juan Island, where he now has a residency in addition to his places on Waldron, is the best place to show this film.

As he told Robert Redford during a recent festival screening in Albuquerque, “It’s not yet at the scale of Sundance or Cannes—but just wait a year or two!”

For more about the film or to order a DVD visit or


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