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Cogswell film class delivers a 'Gift' with a message

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By Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
In an old house in Snohomish, a little girl is hunting for something. She rummages through drawers, opens a trunk and peeks under a bed. Her frustration grows as she climbs to search closet shelves. So begins "The Gift," an eight-minute film lovely enough to hold its own in cinematic competition. But don't look for it on any list of Academy Award winners. It's not that kind of movie.
Senior Services' event Thursday Senior Services of Snohomish County plan a fundraising breakfast and community celebration from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Thursday at the Everett Events Center. For reservations, call 425-265-2292 by Tuesday. The nonprofit agency offers meals, transportation, housing and social service programs. For information, go to
"It's a commercial," said Hank Isaac, who teaches filmmaking at Henry Cogswell College's digital arts program in Everett. Isaac directed "The Gift." He was helped in its production by his students, former students, an Everett cameraman and a talented young actress. "The Gift" isn't selling toothpaste or life insurance. It's not that kind of commercial. It was made to convey information about Senior Services of Snohomish County, and to raise funds for the nonprofit organization. The Mukilteo-based agency helps more than 35,000 people a year through its meal programs, housing and other social services. Thursday morning, Senior Services will hold its first fundraising breakfast and community celebration. Those attending the event, which starts at 7:30 a.m. at the Everett Events Center, are in for a treat. They'll get to see "The Gift." The film is anything but a predictable laundry list of programs and people associated with senior services.

Henry Cogswell College photo
Cameraman Joe Andolina (center) and a crew from Henry Cogswell College in Everett film actress Jillian English (left), 11, on location in a Snohomish home for "The Gift," an eight-minute fundraising film for Senior Services of Snohomish County.
"There's a huge world of industrial films and training films. I swore I'd never do talking heads with little captions. See those, your brain turns off," said Isaac, whose spare screenplay covers the same ground in a creative way. The child, played by 11-year-old Jillian English of Renton, takes a short journey. On her way, she passes a Meals-on-Wheels van with Senior Service's logo. Hopscotching along, she sees a woman with a walker being helped with transportation, and a home repair worker in another scene. Other subtle examples of aid provided by the agency pop up throughout the film. "It's a little bit of a risk for us," said Janet Duncan, development director for Senior Services of Snohomish County. "We went to Henry Cogswell College and said we need to get our story out from the clients' perspective. Hank had this idea, this vision of a story he wanted to use." Helping bring that vision to the screen was Joe Andolina of Everett, who did the camera work. An actor and camera operator, Andolina worked on "The Fugitive" TV series when it was filmed in Snohomish County in 2001. Cogswell student filmmaker Stephen Eilers, 39, cast Jillian through auditions, and edited the film. Marika Timmerman, a 20-year-old Cogswell student, created storyboards. Sean Kraft, 21, another Cogswell digital arts student, worked on animation of the agency's logo. Other Cogswell students and alumni - James Jensen, Soren Laulainen and Niles Compau among them - also contributed. Christopher Peacock, a composer and the pianist at Rosario Resort on Orcas Island, provided the musical soundtrack. "The Gift" was a milestone, Isaac said. The senior services organization paid for equipment rental and to hire a professional actress - a first for the college's filmmakers. Duncan declined to say how much "The Gift" cost, but said it was well under what many businesses pay for corporate videos, which she said can run $10,000 or more. A Snohomish couple provided their restored Victorian-style home for a location. Filming, which took six days, was also done on Everett streets and on a Community Transit bus. Deb English said her daughter has been acting since age 6. Recently, the sixth-grader appeared in a Seattle SuperSonics commercial filmed in Los Angeles. Jillian also had a speaking role in an episode of "The Fugitive." "As long as she's having fun, she'll keep doing it," English said. Jillian will be at the Everett Events Center for Thursday's breakfast. "It's very well produced. They did a wonderful job," Jillian's mother said of "The Gift." For Duncan, the artistic little film is a step into fundraising for an organization that until recently relied largely on government funding. With baby boomers nearing retirement, the need is growing. "We think in the next 10 years, it will be sort of a tsunami," Duncan said. Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, former County Executive Bob Drewel and other community leaders are expected at the breakfast, Duncan said. "We hope to raise money, raise friends, and let people know we serve 35,000 people a year," she said. Asked for a film critique, Duncan said, "It actually made me cry." Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or

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