Filmmaker silently wins praise

Boy meets girl is a time-honored story, but Everett filmmaker Hank Isaac had a more interesting take on young romance.

His award-winning film “The Bench” tells the tale without a word being spoken. The silent film’s story line can be summed up as boys meet girl, boys fight over girl, and girl ditches those silly boys.

Don’t look for 66-year-old Isaac in a star-packed Hollywood audience, nervously awaiting an Oscar tonight. He may not even watch from home.

“I don’t know.” he said. “What’s nominated?”

He has seen “Moonrise Kingdom,” which is up for Best Original Screenplay, but admitted Wednesday he hasn’t yet seen Academy Award nominees “Lincoln,” “Argo” or “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Isaac stays busy writing and directing his own films.

“The Bench” is a short film — six and a half minutes — set in 1928 and stars a talented bunch of child actors. Filmed last Aug. 20 at Lynnwood’s Heritage Park, “The Bench” replicates the old-time look of a black-and-white silent movie. The park, a partnership of Lynnwood, the Alderwood Manor Heritage Association and other groups, proved tailor-made for the period piece.

“We looked at every city, county and state park in the area,” Isaac said. “We needed a bench where the background was clear. We didn’t want to intrude on people. It’s like an outdoor museum, with early 1900s buildings.”

Just east of I-5 at Poplar Way and Alderwood Manor Parkway, Heritage Park showcases several historical buildings, an old water tower and a barn. It’s also the resting place of the Interurban Trolley Car No. 55.

“The Bench” recently won the Northwest Prize, which honors films from our region, at Children’s Film Festival Seattle. The 11-day festival, which ended Feb. 3 at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum, selects more than 120 films from at least 35 countries each year.

It was also recognized by Indie Fest, an awards competition rather than a film festival for audiences. In that competition, “The Bench” picked up Awards of Merit in directing for Isaac and for leading actress Rachelle Henry, “the girl on the bench.” She was 11 when the film was made.

There’s no current venue for viewing “The Bench.” Posting it online now could jeopardize its chances to be shown and honored at other festivals, Isaac said.

Joe Andolina, who co-produced “The Bench” and is the film’s cinematographer, has worked with Isaac on film projects for years. An actor and cameraman, Andolina worked on “The Fugitive” TV series when it was filmed in Snohomish County in 2001.

“Joe loves old films, and I love old films,” said Isaac, who described “The Bench” as an homage to cinema of a bygone era.

The pair worked together on a 2011 music video, “The Day.” Written and directed by Isaac and shot by Andolina, it featured the Moby song and a scenario of two girls surviving homelessness on Seattle’s streets. Rachelle, the actress in “The Bench,” played one of the girls in the video.

In 2006, Isaac and Andolina also teamed up to create a short film, “The Gift,” for Senior Services of Snohomish County. That eight-minute film, shown at a Senior Services fundraising event, also includes a child actress. The girl was shown on a long journey, seeing people helped by the nonprofit agency along the way.

Most of the children in “The Bench,” who came from around the region, have acting experience. They auditioned for Isaac at the Everett Public Library. Jonny Ozburn, who plays “the rich boy,” is a stage actor with the Village Theatre. The “poor boy” is played by Rielly Swanson, described by Isaac as “the reincarnation of Tom Sawyer.”

Isaac’s work runs counter to that famous W.C. Fields advice about never working with animals or children. Always with parents present, Isaac has directed many child actors. “Kids are not just small, incapable adults,” Isaac said. “They’re smart and eager and just beginning to discover the world.”

He has also written for television, including a recently finished pilot for a situation comedy. Isaac isn’t holding his breath for Hollywood fame, but his films are lovely.

“I’m pretty self-funded,” he said. “I keep doing productions and winning some awards. My goal, I try to make stuff that’s audience-worthy.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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