In 1999, four film buff friends – who met annually at the Telluride Film Festival –decided they could create a festival closer to home, right in the heart of the National Historic District on Port Townsend, Washington’s waterfront.
Rocky Friedman, Linda Yakush, Jim Ewing, and Jim Westall hatched their idea for a hometown film festival with one caveat: It should have something for everyone. Peter Simpson, writer, poet and film lover joined them, and in year five, became our first Executive Director. Together they attracted 200 volunteers to this great notion.
With the motto "A film lover's block party celebrating great films and filmmakers,” the first Port Townsend Film Festival launched on September 22, 2000. We closed off Taylor Street and brought in hay bale seating for an evening of free outdoor movies, opened three indoor movie venues, and screened 24 documentary, feature, and short films over three days and nights.
We now screen more than 80 films in seven venues! It’s completely walkable, includes a big outdoor dinner for passholders, Q&A and panel discussions with filmmakers, and great parties. We still invite everyone to fill Taylor Street, on three evenings, for the outdoor movie (free of charge) and offer free films day and night in the Peter Simpson Theatre.
Our Festival attracts film historians, critics, famous screenwriters, producers, directors and industry specialists. Each year we select a Special Guest, among them Elliott Gould, Tony Curtis, Dyan Cannon, Debra Winger, Karen Allen and Bruce Dern as he prepared for his role in the Academy Award-winning film, “Nebraska.”
Festival revenues allow us to hold special events and take filmmakers to the schools throughout the year, and to offer a fellowship providing local housing (and time) for filmmakers to complete their work.
Our more than 300 volunteers donate their time, money, materials (everything from hammers and nails to floral bouquets), housing and frequent flier miles to keep our guests, filmmakers and their films coming, keeping the dream going.
The Festival has weathered several economic storms during its 15 years, always finding a way for the community and its guests to watch movies together, to talk about movies together, to love movies together. We gave up our original one-room office, in the entryway of the historic Baker Block Building, and moved into a spacious suite on the top floor. You can see our wonderful PTFF neon sign from one end of Water Street to the other.
In this seaport arts community of festivals and celebrations, the people of Port Townsend love their Film Festival. Every year, the word of just how special it is travels just a little further. Every year the waves of creative, diverse moviemakers and moviegoers converge. And so the film lover’s block party goes on!