Arts and Entertainment

Hats off to Harry

Garrett Bennett watches the filming of
Garrett Bennett watches the filming of 'Farewell to Harry.'
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

Garrett Bennett and Ann Wilkinson came home to make a movie – a movie about coming home.

The result, “Farewell to Harry,” is featured in a special screening this weekend at the island’s annual film festival, “Celluloid Bainbridge.”

Writer/director Bennett and co-producer Wilkinson hadn’t seen each other since graduating from Bainbridge High School in the early 1980s. But when Bennett told her about the project, Wilkinson moved back from New York, where she had been acting and writing.

“I originally envisioned the setting as New York City,” Bennett said, “but 42nd Street became a country road on Bainbridge. The theme of the film – my coming home – started to integrate into the story.

“Suddenly the ‘Harry’ character became more based on my memories as a kid.”

Bennett admits he has more than a passing resemblance to the film’s writer-protagonist.

Shot on Bainbridge in fall 2000 and now ready for distribution, “Farewell to Harry” depicts a friendship between frustrated author Nick Sennett (Joe Flanigan) and volatile Harry Wyle (William Hall, Jr.), who has inherited a hat factory-turned distillery.

Harry pulls Nick into a scheme to turn the dilapidated factory into a Vaudeville theater, with consequences Bennett won’t disclose – except to call the ending “redemptive.”

Familiarity with Puget Sound helped Bennett and Wilkinson scout locations. They found the setting for Harry’s hat factory in the abandoned Moran School on the property of Messenger House; they also set scenes in Port Townsend.

“The trick is to be low-budget without appearing low-budget,” Bennett said. “You work with what you have.”

When they needed to find the 800 hats that would serve as props in Harry’s hat factory, the production crew was temporarily stumped, however.

“We really were at a loss,” Wilkinson said. “We didn’t know how we would work that one out.”

Then islander Glenn Mounger, son of a hat maker from the 1930s, offered vintage signage and props, and a manufacturer donated hundreds of unfinished hats.

The movie team raided an old hat factory in Tennessee for manufacturing equipment.

One of their “finds,” a machine whose rusting form gives little clue to function, sits under the “Dry Cleaners” sign in front of Bennett and Wilkinson’s film production company at the south end of Madison Avenue.

“During the summer,” WIlkinson said, “we have about 10 people a day asking what it is.”

The film has already received critical notice: last year, “Farewell to Harry” was named best film in the “Shooting in Seattle” category at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Bennett says his next project, a comedy, is also slated for Bainbridge. “This is a place we can cover rent and we can get interns,” he said.

Bennett and Wilkinson know must do some more legwork before they can say farewell to Harry, though.

“The project began in 1998,” Bennett said, “and we just finished our last cut in L.A. two weeks ago. Now we need to get the movie to the theaters. But that will happen.”

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