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Bainbridge Island boys making good...on film
Funny that an international film event would bring two Bainbridge natives together.
“We were joking about that at the opening, how we both ended up ironically in the festival,” Garrett Bennett said.
Bennett and Kevin Tomlinson, both raised on the island – across the bay from each other in Port Madison – will be screening new movies at the Seattle International Film Festival, running through June 14 at theaters throughout the city.
Bennett’s “The Spy and the Sparrow” mixes a CIA thriller with a father-daughter tale. Tomlinson’s “Back to the Garden” marries two sets of documentary footage shot in a community of back-to-the-land hippies in 1988 and again 20 years later.
Following a common theme for young island natives, Bennett said that when he graduated from Bainbridge High School, he “had to get off the rock.” With a group of friends including fellow director and Bainbridge native Bryan Gunnar Cole, he laid the groundwork for Annex Theatre here on Bainbridge, and then moved it to Seattle, where it has remained in existence for 22 years.
After acting school, Bennett moved to L.A., where he did a bit of everything – acting, writing, directing commercials. When he set out to create a feature film, the Northwest called.
“I came back because I really needed a place to write, and to get away from the Hollywood focus,” he said.
The result, “Farewell to Harry,” made a splash on the island when it was filmed here in fall 2000; it was released in 2002 and, like “Sparrow” will, made its debut at SIFF.
He returned to the island to shoot the 2005 ensemble drama “A Relative Thing.” The film won awards on the festival circuit, but Bennett found drama to be a hard sell when it came to distribution.
So he thought long and hard about taking on a third drama, which was “Sparrow’s” genre at the outset – a domestic drama about a young woman struggling to reconcile her damaged present with her past.
What if the father, a character with a scar and his own murky past, grew?
“I was probably watching too much ‘Bourne Ultimatum’ at the time, but I thought – maybe to be a little more fresh – to go with the avenue that he was a spy. It still worked with the concept that he was wounded from his battles. And eventually, his character started to really grow. And as he grew, we came to realize that...he really had the potential of losing his soul.
“That’s when it started to turn into a spy thriller, but a tthe same time, it would always maintain that relationship at the heart of it, which was the father and the daughter.”
At the heart of Tomlinson’s “Back to the Garden” is a circle. In 1988, the relatively fresh freelance filmmaker took a road trip with his bride and caught sight of a poster advertising a “healing gathering” in the Okanagan Valley in northeastern Washington.
Fascinated by a group of back-to-the-land hippies living off the grid smack dab in the middle of the Reagan-Bush era, Tomlinson followed the sign and spent the next four days filming as his wife conducted interviews.
Aside from learning that they knew how to power a rock concert using a solar panel, Tomlinson learned that the attendees formed a tight-knit community that grew its own food, helped raise each other’s children, and had managed to “live out their dreams on their terms.”
“I was very taken by their sincerity, their genuineness, their ability to cut through the crap, and be what we used to say at the time, ‘real,’” Tomlinson said.
Still, in part because he wasn’t ready, and in part because he didn’t think audiences were ready, the footage sat unused until 2006, when a producer friend urged Tomlinson to take another look.
By then he’d built a thriving career as a freelance director and cameraman that included work with corporations; network and local news programs; television magazines; and travel shows with Rick Steves. And he decided it was time to go “back to the garden” to track down as many interviewees as he could, and hear their stories now.
What he found, he found heartening. While a lot of the community members had taken breaks from hard-core rural living, working and raising families elsewhere, most cawme back; to a person, he said, everyone was “out there doing their same thing.”
He also learned in early “BTTG” screenings that high school and college students are some of the film’s biggest fans.
“What an irony that a bunch of hippies could be a role model...for survival in the middle of a financial crisis. I think it’s great. I think it’s fantastic,” he said.
There’s a full-circle aspect to Bainbridge for both filmmakers, too.
Bennett lives on the island part-time, using L.A. as his business base and the island for most everything else. Tomlinson lives in Seattle, where he helms Heaven Scent Films, and comes over frequently to visit his mom. She still lives in the house he grew up in.
Tomlinson thinks it’s a kick that two “Port Madison boys” ended up where they are, and came from where they did.
“I’m very proud to be from Bainbridge,” Tomlinson said.
Spys, gardens, SIFF
“Back to the Garden” will be screened at 7:15 p.m. June 1 and 5 p.m. June 2 at Pacific Place Cinemas in Seattle. “The Spy and the Sparrow” runs at 9 p.m. June 10 at the SIFF Cinema and at 11 a.m. June 13 at the Egyptian Theatre. Tickets, directions: www.siff.net/festival.