Every other Tuesday at 7 p,m., through winter and spring, the folks at the Friday Harbor Film Festival will be showing a selection of films from the very successful 2013 festival. Below are descriptions of each film to whet your cinematic appetite! (excerpts taken from the FHFF website). You can also view the trailer for each film on the website – I did, and I can’t wait to see some of these amazing films!
January 7 – Smokin’ Fish: Cory Mann is a quirky Tlingit businessman hustling to make a dollar in Juneau, Alaska. Smokin’ Fish relates his efforts to negotiate between survival in the world’s economy as an entrepreneur, and retention of his cultural identity as a member of the Thunderbird Clan. His business travels take him across the Pacific to various Asian countries, but the lure of smoking fish and nostalgia for his childhood draws him to spend a summer smoking fish among relatives near Klukwan, Alaska. The unusual story of Mann’s life and the untold history of his people interweave with the process of preparing traditional food as he struggles to pay his bills and keep his business (mass producing and importing Tlingit artwork and wholesaling it to the tourism industry) afloat. Mann’s casual style makes him very effective as the cultural broker, bringing the varied scenes of Tlingit cultural life to those of us who know little, if anything, about it.
January 21 – The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom: Filmmaker Lucy Walker set out to make “a visual haiku about cherry blossoms” in Japan, but changed her plans radically following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the country in March of 2011. Taken with the cherry blossom’s beauty and ability to symbolize the ephemeral quality of life, Walker links the disaster with the power of Japan’s most beloved flower to heal and inspire. Walker’s stunning visual poem opens with a long clip of jaw-dropping real-life footage of the tsunami, showing water sweeping houses and buildings along like toys, lifting up cars, and swallowing people. It then moves to interviews with survivors from a northern Japanese village in the heart of the disaster, who share their traumatic personal experiences of the tsunami against a backdrop of cherry blossoms — a symbol rooted deep in Japanese culture that suggests rebirth.
Honor and Sacrifice: Roy Matsumoto, the man whose fascinating story is told in this film, is actually a resident of San Juan Island, and recently celebrated his 100th birthday here. His story is that of a Japanese immigrant family ripped apart by World War II. The Matsumoto family included five sons, two who fought for the Americans and three who fought for the Japanese. The eldest, Hiroshi (Roy) fought against the Japanese with Merrill’s Marauders, an American guerrilla unit in Burma. He became a hero when he used his Japanese language skills and military training to save his surrounded, starving battalion deep in the Burmese jungle. At the same time his parents and sisters were living in their family’s ancestral home, Hiroshima. The story is told by Roy’s daughter Karen, as she discovers her father’s work in military intelligence, kept secret for 50 years.
February 4 – Girl Rising: Girl Rising is a groundbreaking film, directed by Academy Award nominee Richard Robbins. It tells the stories of nine extraordinary girls from nine different countries; each story was written by a celebrated writer from the girl’s own country and is narrated by a renowned actress. Girl Rising showcases the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world. The featured girls face arranged marriages, child slavery and other heartbreaking injustices. Despite these obstacles, the brave girls offer hope and inspiration. By getting an education, they’re able to break down barriers and create change. The girls are unique, but the barriers they are forced to deal with are universal. Sixty-six million girls around the world can only dream of attending school. By sharing their personal journeys, the featured students have also become teachers. Watch Girl Rising, and you will see that one girl with courage is a revolution.
February 18 – Taylor Camp: In 1969, a small group of young men, women and children – refugees from campus riots, Vietnam War protests and police brutality – fled from the mainland to the island of Kauai. Soon they were arrested and sentenced to 90 days’ hard labor for having no money and no home. Island resident Howard Taylor, brother of actress Elizabeth, bailed them out of jail and invited them to camp on his vacant oceanfront property. Soon waves of hippies, surfers and troubled Vietnam vets found their way to this clothing-optional, pot-friendly tree house village at the end of the road on the island’s North Shore. Taylor Camp reveals a community that created order without rules, rejecting materialism for the healing power of nature. We come to understand the significance Taylor Camp’s eight-year existence through interviews made 30 years later after the filmmakers tracked down the campers, their neighbors and the government officials who finally got rid of them.
March 4 – The Whale: The Whale tells the true story of a wild killer whale, an orca named Luna, who somehow gets separated from his family off the west coast of Vancouver Island, BC. He turns up alone in a narrow stretch of sea between mountains, called Nootka Sound. Because orcas live in tight-knit family groups and are clearly social animals, one who gets separated from family usually dies. Without familiar orcas nearby, Luna seeks out the attention of people in boats and on the shore. This contact does not turn out to be simple. As rambunctious and surprising as a visitor from another planet, Luna endears himself to humans with his determination to make contact, leading to laughter, conflict and unexpected consequences. The Whale celebrates the life of a smart, friendly, determined, transcendent being from the other world of the sea who appeared among us, reminding us that the greatest secrets in life are still to be discovered.
March 18 – Black Wave: In the early hours of March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil supertanker ran aground in Alaska, discharging millions of gallons of crude oil and thus becoming the biggest environmental catastrophe in North American history. In a flash, dramatic images shot across the planet: thousands of carcasses of dead seabirds and sea otters covered in oil, a thick black tide rising and covering the beaches of once-pristine Prince William Sound. For the next 20 years, Riki Ott and the fishermen of the little town of Cordova, Alaska, waged the longest legal battle in U.S. history against ExxonMobil, the world’s most powerful oil company. In this compelling documentary, we learn about the environmental, social and economic consequences of the black wave that changed their lives and the lives of thousands of people forever. And we learn that the horrific legacy of the Exxon Valdez still lives today.
April 1 – Eastern Rises: In Eastern Rises a courageous band of fly fishermen risks everything in one of the last wild places on earth, the Kamchatka Peninsula of the Russian Far East. It may as well be at the end of the earth. Its enormous, wild landscape is threaded with rivers, teeming with massive mouse-eating trout, bugs and bears. In other words, this place is the Holy Grail for truly obsessed, halfway insane fly fishermen. They brave Cold War helicopters, grizzlies, massive mosquitoes, and even Bigfoot in search of rainbow trout, salmon and the ultimate fish story. The cynical narration of filmmaker Ben Knight (from Felt Soul Media) pulls viewers along on this humorous and intriguing tale in which fishing is poetry, Sasquatch lurks in the fog, and fishermen risk life and limb to explore rivers that have never before been fished. The cinematography is superb, the storytelling excellent, and the angling inspirational.
Red Gold: The Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska is home to the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers, the two most prolific sockeye salmon runs left in the world. Two mining companies, Northern Dynasty Minerals and Anglo American, have proposed an open-pit and under-ground mine at the headwaters of the two rivers. The area has the second largest deposit of copper, gold and molybdenum ever discovered, with an estimated value over $300 billion. Despite promises of a clean project by mining officials, the accident-plagued history of hard rock mining has wrought one of the biggest land use controversies Alaska has ever faced. Red Gold gives a face to the issue, and a voice to the people who depend on this extraordinary fishery. This documentary gives all sides a chance to be seen and heard. For the first time, Bristol Bay’s subsistence, commercial and sport-fishing communities have joined together for a common cause.
April 15 – Back to the Garden: n 1988, Seattle filmmaker Kevin Tomlinson interviewed a group of back-to-the-land ”hippies” who had isolated themselves from mainstream culture by living off-grid in rural Washington State, practicing peace and love. In 2006, Tomlinson returned to their community to learn what had become of their utopian dreams. He talked again with the original interviewees, as well as their children, to determine how living this alternative lifestyle actually played out. Back to the Garden is an extremely poignant time-lapse view of these idealists, told with moving personal stories. It offers profound insights into one of the most iconic social movements of our time, speaking to all of us who grew up in the 60s or were affected by the counterculture of those days. The non-conformist lifestyles of these aging hippies and their now-thriving families – all firmly insulated from global economic shocks — today looks ahead of its time and wiser than ever.
Tiny: Tiny is a documentary about home, and how we find it. The film follows one couple’s attempt to build a “tiny house” from scratch, and profiles other families who have downsized their lives into homes smaller than the average parking space. Featuring homes stripped down to their essentials, exploring the owners’ stories and the design innovations that make the houses work, the film raises questions about good design, the nature of home, and the changing American Dream. That dream for some may focus on flexibility, financial freedom, and quality of life over quantity of space. Tiny is a coming-of-age story for a generation that is more connected, yet less tied-down than ever, and for a society redefining its priorities in the face of a changing financial and environmental climate. More than anything, the film invites its viewers to dream big and imagine living small.
May 6 – Keiko, The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy: In this film, fans of the international icon Keiko learn what happened when the Free Willy star became the first and only captive orca to be released back into the wild. Torn from his family at the tender age of two, Keiko spent 14 years in captivity as a performing tourist attraction before Hollywood discovered him for the title role in the 1993 blockbuster movie, Free Willy. When his millions of fans realized that Keiko was not free like his on-screen character, a crusade was launched to save him. The decision was ultimately made to return Keiko to his native waters off Iceland. After spending two years in Oregon regaining his health, he was airlifted to Iceland in the fall of 1998, and lived his last years in freedom. But until now, exactly what happened after he went back to his native waters has never been revealed.
May 20 – Good Food: Something remarkable is happening in the fields and orchards of the Pacific Northwest. Small family farmers are making a comeback. They’re growing much healthier food, and lots more food per acre, while using less energy and water than factory farms. For decades Northwest agriculture was focused on a few big crops for export. But to respond to climate change and the end of cheap energy, each region needs to produce more of its own food and to grow food more sustainably. Good Food visits producers, farmers’ markets, distributors, stores, restaurants and public officials who are developing a more sustainable food system for all. Within the context of the history of Pacific Northwest agriculture, the film features some of the places where many of the region’s vegetables, fruits, grains and animal products are produced. Farmers and farm workers speak about their businesses, marketing, and the reasons they are committed to producing food that is healthy and environmentally-friendly.