“Vashon Verité,” a new series of documentary film screenings hosted by Academy Award and Emmy-nominated director Charlie Siskel, who now resides part-time on Vashon, will kick off next week at Vashon Center for the Arts.
The series will open with screenings of two major films made by Siskel, followed by post-show discussions with the filmmaker about the subjects he has chosen, the inspiration he draws upon, and his journey as a documentarian.
The first screening, of Siskel’s “American Anarchist,” will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21.
The 2016 film, which premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, tells the story of the counter-culture, bomb-making manual, “The Anarchist Cookbook,” and the role it has played in the life of its author, now age 65, who wrote it at age 19 in the midst of the social and political upheaval of the late 1960s and ’70s. Examined now, the story is a cautionary tale about personal accountability, with parallels in today’s polarized politics.
The second screening, of “Finding Vivian Maier,” co-directed by Siskel and John Maloof, will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22. Telling the story of a reclusive nanny and her secret life as a photographer, the film was nominated for a 2015 Academy Award, Emmy Award, Writers Guild Award, and Directors Guild Award. Since the discovery of Maier’s body of work — which for years was hoarded away in storage lockers — Maier has been hailed as one of the great photographers of the 20th century.
Siskel’s resume, at age 52, includes numerous awards for his work as a director and producer in film and television. His earlier work as a producer includes the Academy Award-winning film “Bowling for Columbine,” directed by Michael Moore, and the film “Religulous” with Bill Maher.
Television credits include documentary and comedy shows such as the Emmy-nominated “The Awful Truth” (also with Michael Moore), Siskel’s own critically-acclaimed shows, “Crossballs: The Debate Show” and “Review” on Comedy Central, and “Important Things with Demetri Martin” and “Tosh.0.”
Siskel is also a former lawyer, with expertise in media law, free speech and First Amendment issues, and has taught TV writing, production and legal topics through Chicago’s Columbia College and UCLA.
He is also now a part-time islander, splitting his time between Vashon and Southern California since February of 2020.
In a phone conversation, Siskel said that he purchased a home on Vashon just prior to the dawn of the COVID era — a decision he initially regretted but has now come to believe was very lucky. Increasing, he said, he now spends his time on the island.
“Part of that is that the pandemic has made it possible, and part of that is that I’ve fallen in love with the island and I don’t want to leave,” he said.
He said he deeply appreciates Vashon Center for the Arts, where he has been able to see art exhibits and attend events in the past quiet months.
Sickle said that at a recent performance at VCA of the dance company, Whim W’Him, he had tears in his eyes.
“The fact of being back together in an audience with other people, experiencing art, was moving and powerful — to have some return to normalcy,” he said.
It’s that communal audience experience that Siskel hopes to bring to his upcoming film series, which he described as a trial run for a bigger idea — the presentation of a small film festival on Vashon which could revisit other great and classic films in the documentary film canon.
Siskel said he also loves the island’s historic Vashon Theatre and could envision showing films in that venue as well during a small festival. Such an event, he said, could attract other well-known documentarians to Vashon, to share their insights and perspectives with audience members.
“People are hungry for these types of stories, and the conversations that happen around these films is always fun,” he said. “It’s exciting to hear people’s radically different takes on the same story … to me, the conversations and debates that come out of that experience of watching a film from real life never get old.”
Siskel said he hopes that “Vashon Verité” — whether it grows into a festival or remains an occasional series on Vashon — will be embraced by audiences and filmmakers alike.
“The idea of doing [this] with other filmmakers in a place like Vashon, with audiences who are eager and sophisticated, seems to be a natural fit,” he said. “That’s the hypothesis we are trying to test.”
To purchase tickets to “Vashon Verité” screenings, visit vashoncenterforthearts.org.