Friday Harbor Film Festival returns for sixth season

From danger on the high seas, to organic farming, to indigenous peoples’ influence in rock music, a variety of stories are covered by the sixth annual Friday Harbor Film Festival.

“There is just such a wide range of topics this year,” said Bex Bishop, festival producer.

This year the festival kicks off at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 26, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 28. At 7 p.m. Oct. 26 there will be the Filmmakers Gala. Paul Watson, of Sea Shepherd, will accept his Lifetime Achievement Award. Gala attendees will also have a chance to view his film “Chasing the Thunder.”

Tickets for the Gala are $75, refreshments included. Festival prices are: $15 for one film, $65 for five, $120 for 10, or $175 for an all-access wristband, which includes priority seating. Tickets are available at Students are free and may pick up their wristbands at the Friday Harbor Film Festival office at 10 First St., Friday Harbor. Hours are Tuesday-Sundays, noon-4 p.m.

This year, whether due to new marketing or partnering with Seattle’s The Stranger to sell tickets, sales have skyrocketed.

“I strongly recommend people buy tickets now because there is a chance we could be sold out,” said Lynn Danaher festival founder and director.

Many of the films feature members of the island community. “Adrift” for example, is based off the book “Red Sky in Mourning,” a true story by islander Tami Oldham Ashcraft. After being caught at sea in a massive hurricane, an injured Ashcraft gathers her strength and uses what little is left of her boat to make over a month-long journey toward land.

“We are thrilled to be showing this, and to have Tami on hand afterward to answer questions,” Danaher said.

“The Bleeding Edge,” co-produced by local Amy Herdy, explores new health technologies, and how some may actually be killing those they are attempting to treat. This film “follows the emotionally powerful stories of those whose lives have been irrevocably harmed by medical technology gone wrong, giving voice to injured victims, uncovering frightening corporate malpractice and the complex legal loopholes that have allowed this situation to continue unabated,” the festival website states.

Two short documentaries feature the Southern resident orcas. “Qwel Lhol Mech Ten” tells the story of Lolita, who was captured from the Salish Sea during the ‘70s and is now in a Miami seaquarium. “The Hundred-Year-Old Whale,” tells the story of Granny, the matriarch of J pod that passed away last year.

Even the Andrew V. McLaglen Lifetime Achievement award winner, Watson, has island connections. He has lived on San Juan Island for many years, where he stationed the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society headquarters. Sea Shepherd is an international nonprofit marine wildlife conservation organization founded by Watson in 1978. “Chasing Thunder” is about a 110-day chase of a notorious poaching vessel in the Antarctic. Banned from fishing, and wanted by Interpol, Sea Shepherd activists follow the ship through storms, ice floes, two seas and three oceans to bring the poachers to justice.

“Paul is definitely someone who has made a significant contribution to changing the world, throughout his lifetime,” Danaher said, explaining that the qualifications for the lifetime achievement award honors a person who has made outstanding contributions to raising the public’s awareness through activism or as a filmmaker.

“One thing that sets us apart from other festivals is that we aren’t just about entertainment. We don’t show any fiction, and we have experts to field questions after the film is shown so people come away enlightened,” Danaher said.

There are two free events this year.

The first free event is a new program, called the filmmakers forum. It begins at 10 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 28, at the Friday Harbor House. The public is invited to ask filmmakers questions. Maria Garcia, a journalist and film critic from New York City, will facilitate the forum.

The audience choice awards has always been free, festival producer Karen Palmer, explained, but no one really seems to know that. The awards ceremony takes place at 7 p.m., Oct. 28, at the San Juan Community Theatre. Islander Alex Shapiro will be presented with the festival’s local hero award, and the film that received the audience choice will be shown as well.

“Alex has such diverse talents,” Danaher said, noting that Shapiro’s conception of papercutting is creating music through tearing, cutting crumpling or pulling paper has now become at least nationally used, if not internationally. “And she started it right here in the middle school,” Palmer added.

Also presented at the audience choice event will be the Laszlo Pal award, named after local filmmaker and board member of the festival, who passed away this year. The award will be presented to a new up and coming filmmaker.

Of the new films, one the festival staff is excited about is “Jasmine Stung.” This short documentary about the streets of Mumbai was produced by Partho Gupte, who won second place in the Young Filmmakers last year. Gupte who is attending college in California will be visiting the festival.

“He said he was so inspired after last year, he submitted this on his own this year, not as a young filmmaker. It is so good, it blew our minds,” Danaher said.

Bishop also pointed out that after watching the short, “Green Bag Solutions,” about Ashland Oregon’s response to feeding its poor community members. To assist the island community, as well as inspire others, the festival will be accepting food donations.

“Each film is its own microcosm,” said Bishop. “A world created by the passion of its filmmaker, and we hope the audiences will find themselves immersed in that world.”

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Contributed image/FHFF
                                Paul Watson, of Sea Shepherd, will accept the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Contributed image/FHFF Paul Watson, of Sea Shepherd, will accept the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Contributed image/FHFF
                                Islander Alex Shapiro will be presented with the festival’s local hero award

Contributed image/FHFF Islander Alex Shapiro will be presented with the festival’s local hero award