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Film icon Tom Skerritt brings acclaimed new film to Vashon

“East of the Mountains,” will be screened at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, at Vashon Theatre.

Editor’s note: This article contains a reference to suicide. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

Tom Skerritt, a Seattle actor with a storied career in film and television, will pay a visit to the island next week when Vashon Theatre presents a special screening of “East of the Mountains,” a new film that has earned the actor ecstatic reviews.

Just this week, it was announced that Skerritt was nominated for Best Actor and the film was nominated for Best Picture by The International Press Academy for The Satellite Awards — an indication of more acclaim to come for the indy film.

The Vashon screening will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, at Vashon Theatre, and will offer not only a chance for local audiences to see the film on the big screen, but also take part in a Q&A with Skerritt as well as the film’s director, S.J. Chiro, and its editor, Eric Frith, who is a Vashon resident.

“East of the Mountains,” based on a best-selling novel by Northwest writer David Guterson, follows Skerritt’s character, a heart surgeon who learns that he has terminal cancer. Responding to the crushing news, he takes his beloved dog back to his boyhood home in Eastern Washington, determined to end his life on his own terms. His journey, though, takes an unexpected turn, and soon becomes an adventure against which he pits himself with stoicism, wit, and determination.

The Seattle Times has called Skerritt’s work in the film “one of the best performances of his career.”

The Hollywood Reporter concurred. “Skerritt delivers a performance of such understated eloquence and dignity that it emerges as a quiet gem,” said its critic, Frank Scheck.

Skerritt, who at age 87 is now getting Oscar buzz for his performance, has had a decades-long career, with highlights that include the original “Alien,” in 1979, to projects like “M*A*S*H,” “Top Gun,” “A River Runs Through It,” and “Steel Magnolia.”

He has appeared in more than 40 films and more than 200 television episodes, and credits his training in film to iconic filmmakers of the 1970s including Ridley Scott, Hal Ashby and Robert Altman.

Along the way, he has also become one of the most vocal champions of Seattle’s film scene. With screenwriter Stewart Stern, he founded The Film School in Seattle, teaching local storytellers how to hone their craft. He also founded the Red Badge Project, in partnership with Joint Base Lewis McChord, to use the art of storytelling to help returning vets reconnect with themselves and overcome PTSD.

Reached by phone the day after he had returned from a trip to London, Skerritt said he was happy to come to Vashon — a place he visits regularly and has always enjoyed.

“I like the idea of being on an island,” he said.

He said that the success of “East of the Mountains” — an all-Washington production, helmed by both a local female director and producer — was possible because the production had taken the time necessary to create a screenplay that would truly resonate with audiences.

Too often, he said, Seattle screenwriters have rushed to finish their screenplays and sell them to producers beyond the region. “East of the Mountains,” he said, proved a point he had been trying to make for years.

“It’s about this community understanding that what comes from the hard work of writing a screenplay is that you create a new world of visual entertainment,” he said.

For tickets to see “East of the Mountains” and take part in the Q&A with its star and makers, visit vashontheatre.com.


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