Orcas Island Film Festival aims for the stars in fifth year

The Orcas Island Festival keeps upping its game.

Celebrating its fifth year, the movie extravaganza will feature 34 brand new films that represent 18 countries.

“For our fifth anniversary, we have put together a star-studded line-up,” said OIFF film curator Carl Spence.

Twenty-nine of the films are making their Northwest debut (directly from Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York and Sundance) and nine are films by women filmmakers. The festival will run from Oct. 4-8 at two venues: Sea View Theatre and Orcas Center.

Charles Mudede, film and art critic from The Stranger newspaper, has called OIFF “the crème de la crème of the first-tier festival circuit.” Past films have garnered 34 nominations and eight Oscars. The full festival line-up, trailers, passes and tickets are now available at www.orcasfilmfest.com.

Highly anticipated films this year include “Ben is Back” from author, screenwriter and director Peter Hedges, directing the return of Julia Roberts and his son Lucas Hedges. Jake Gyllenhaal appears in two films: “The Sisters Brothers,” the western comedy and English-language debut of award-winning director Jacques Audiard and actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut “Wildlife.”

Other high-profile actors slated to appear on-screen are: Blythe Danner, Carey Mulligan, Guillaume Canet, Hilary Swank, Irrfan Khan, Javier Bardem, Jay Duplass, Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Juliette Binoche, Kelly Macdonald, Mary Kay Place, Melanie Lynskey, Michael Shannon, Montgomery Clift, Penelope Cruz, Ricardo Darin and Rupert Graves.

Cuba will be represented for the first time at the festival with “Sergio and Sergei,” a comedic reflection on how big events can impact ordinary lives. Other light-hearted films include the British hit “Swimming with Men,” hailed as “‘The Full Monty’ in speedos.” Spence has continued the tradition of featuring top award-winners from the world’s best festivals with “Shoplifters,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Many of the international films being presented have also been selected as their countries’ top film of the year and likely to be chosen at submissions to the Academy Awards for best foreign language film, including: “El Angel” (Argentina), “Yomeddine” (Egypt), “Non-Fiction” (France), “Sorry Angel” (France), “Woman at War” (Iceland), “Dogman” (Italy), “Capernaum” (Lebanon), “Cold War” (Poland), “Dovlatov” (Russia), “Everybody Knows” (Spain), “Border” (Sweden) and more. Independent American films are also well-represented, with Orcas Island producer Marc Turtletaub’s “Puzzle” and Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffiths’ “Sadie.”

Women – both in front of and behind the camera – are featured prominently in this season’s selections: “Happy As Lazzaro,” “Eve,” “Sadie,” “What They Had,” “Free Solo” “And Breathe Normally,” “Capernaum,” “Making Montgomery Clift” and “Birds of Passage.”

“I am proud to say that OIFF has joined many film festivals from around the world in a movement to support gender equality in their programming,” said OIFF co-director Donna Laslo.

The festival is presenting its inaugural “Vanguard Award” to the filmmakers of “Yomeddine,” which had its recent world premiere at Cannes. It was just selected as the official Oscar submission from Egypt for the 2019 Academy Awards.

“The Vanguard Award was created to honor a creative work that exhibits mastery and excellence with a story that illuminates the power of the human spirit,” said OIFF co-founder Jared Lovejoy.

Producer Dina Emam, from Cairo, will attend the festival and accept the award along with a $5,000 cash prize underwritten by Orcasong Farm.

Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Big Little Lies,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Wild” and “Demolition”) will return to present a behind-the-scenes, live master class that will highlight his creative process and editing techniques from his most recent work, HBO’s “Sharp Objects.”

Random Howse in Eastsound is the festival hub with an opening-night, red-carpet soiree and late night parties with DJs Bruce Pavitt, Vallée and Darek Mazzone of KEXP Wo’ Pop.

Opening night will have directors and actors in attendance. A special guest is documentary film subject Michael Zahs, who is making the trek to Orcas from Iowa with filmmaker John Richard to present “Saving Brinton.” In a farmhouse basement in the Iowa countryside, Zahs discovered old film reels that belonged to America’s greatest barnstorming movie-man, including a long-lost film from Georges Méliés.

Award-winning chef Christina Orchid will host a pop-up restaurant inside Random Howse. She is calling is “Crab Shack” and it will feature New Orleans style po’ boys, halibut or vegan fish and chips and beef, salmon, lamb, and vegan burgers with fries. For dessert, enjoy a milkshake from Lopez Creamery. The Barnacle will provide the bar with a selection of craft cocktails, local beers and Doe Bay Wine Company wines.

For those who are interested in a cutting-edge film experience, try out the virtual reality, augmented reality and 360°immersion film experience at Random Howse, curated by Wondertek and sponsored by Rock Island Communications.

“The Orcas Island Film Festival is made possible each year by the generosity of many individual donors, businesses, grants and more than 75 committed volunteers,” Laslo said. “It simply wouldn’t exist without help. If you’d like to support the Orcas Island Film Festival there are a number of ways you can help. Contact us for more information. One of the easiest ways to support us and upgrade your festival experience is to buy festival passes.”