What From Failure to Hollywood—A Loose Evening of Poetry, Writing, and Film

Where and when Richard Hugo House at 7pm (1634 11th Ave)

LA director Stephen Gyllenhaal (maker of Maggie and Jake) seems to have a soft spot for our quirky city. His latest film, Grassroots, not only focuses on a Seattle City Council race—oft the stuff of legend?—but it turns a debate about public transit into a viable Hollywood film. Thanks you, Stephen, for caring. And for actually shooting your movie about Seattle in Seattle. (Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Grassroots.)

At the film’s core is the very real underdog story of council hopeful Grant Cogswell, aka The Man Who Loved Seattle Too Much. A poet and unemployed music critic with a tattoo of Seattle’s logo on his left deltoid, Cogswell ran an aggressive pro-monorail campaign on 2001 against light-rail-lovin’ incumbent Richard McIver that “rocked local politics, nearly wrecked his own life, and inspired the book that inspired Grassroots,” wrote Eric Scigliano in his Seattle Met profile of Cogswell. The book, penned by Cogswell’s campaign manager Phil Campbell, is already colorful—even more so when it’s adapted for film.

“Cogswell looks nothing like the tall, gawky Joel David Moore” who plays him in the movie, writes Scigliano. “He can be intense and abrasive, but he stayed cool and poised throughout the campaign, at least in public. Moore’s version is an idealistic goofball, a shoe-pounding, profanity-spewing eruption of righteous passion. He delivers a stirring post-9/11 speech that Cogswell never gave. He even storms about in a polar bear suit at a rally and a city council meeting—something the real Cogswell only joked about doing if he were elected. It becomes the movie’s signature image.

"‘So did you really have a polar bear suit?’ one guest at the wrap party asked Cogswell. ‘I’m deferring all questions to the director,’ Cogswell replied, nodding at Gyllenhaal. ‘It doesn’t matter what really happened,’ said Gyllenhaal. ‘We’re making myths here!’"

Meet the mythmaker and the real-life underdogs tonight at Richard Hugo House. Cogswell starts the evening by reading some of his own work, followed by a reading of Grassroots by Campbell and a conversation with Gyllenhaal—moderated by Stranger writer Charles Mudede—about adapting books to film, grassroots politics, the beauty of monorails, and what it’s like to have Jason Biggs play you in a movie. (Ask Campbell.) Gyllenhaal and Biggs were both in town for the world premiere of Grassroots last night to close out SIFF 2012, so there’s a chance of a celebrity appearance as well.

Grassroots opens at Harvard Exit on June 22.

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