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Tacoma Film Festival Returns

Provides multiple means to experience movies By Justin Teerlinck Photo Courtesy of Tacoma Film Festival

A group of Grand Cinema members led by Executive Director Phillip Cowen got together in 2005 to share a collective vision of celebrating independent film in Tacoma. That shared vision became the Tacoma Film Festival, now in its 19th year. Today, it is a community fixture. The Tacoma Film Festival soon returns to the Grand Cinema on October 3 through 10. The full film schedule will be published on the festival website on September 12.

Opening night will showcase “The Infiltrators,” co-directed by Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera. The film features undocumented youths who deliberately allow themselves to be detained by immigration authorities in order to infiltrate the Northwest Detention Center. “The subject matter is relevant on a national level, and with the Northwest Detention Center a mere 2 miles away from Downtown Tacoma—where the bulk of the festival takes place—it’s also clearly something that’s deeply relevant to us here, too,” says Tanya Tran, marketing manager for the Tacoma Film Festival.

At heart, the festival is a focal point for people who love independent film and the culture of storytelling that surrounds it. It provides multiple opportunities for people to not just hear stories that are rarely told but to experience them as well.

Those opportunities extend to experiences such as The Veldt, a virtual reality simulator that honors Ray Bradbury’s short story with the same name. The virtual reality experience is not a gaming environment but an immersive milieu for three-dimensional storytelling. The interface creates a personalized experience that is directed by each user. Tran further explains, “We've had VR experiences/films that are works of journalism, for example. We've had narratives, docs, comedies, horror ... like other categories of film, it's just that you're experiencing it in an immersive way. In the case of the VIVE [virtual reality hardware], you put on a headset and you can look in every direction as well as move. Sometimes you have controllers in your hands, too.”

Both juried and audience-choice awards will be bestowed on filmmakers who submitted works for a wide range of genres. $10,000 in cash prizes will be awarded in multiple categories. The awards include Best Narrative, Best Documentary, Best Animation Short or Feature, Best Virtual Reality, and also awards highlighting direction, screenplay, performance and cinematography. Both Pacific Northwest and non-Pacific Northwest filmmakers will be honored. According to Tran, “We bring filmmakers who go on to premiere their next film at Sundance, or go on to run an HBO show. And we also feature filmmakers who have created incredible films while maintaining a day job, or who consider filmmaking a passion and not a career.”

She goes on to say, “Past visiting filmmakers often remark on the sense of support they feel from our festival—from both TFF staff and the Tacoma community. We’re very conscientious about TFF being a place free of hierarchy, where storytellers at all levels of experience can find safe, fun ways to connect and share. That energy is palpable.”

For members of the public wanting to get involved, purchasing a movie pass and attending film screenings is an obvious way to enjoy up-and-coming independent films and support the local film community. However, you can also volunteer! The Tacoma Film Festival is accepting volunteer applications until September 19. They’re looking for venue assistants, airport transport drivers (using a festival-provided van), information booth workers and lounge attendants, so if you have the time, the skills, and want to be a part of history in the making, step right up. Just go to the Tacoma Film Festival website (, click on the “volunteer” tab under “support” on the home page, and scroll to the bottom for the online application. Another way to directly support the Tacoma Film Festival is to host a visiting filmmaker in your own home or space. The festival asks for a commitment of one to four days, but you can host a filmmaker for the duration of the festival if you choose; providing food and transportation for them is not required.

If time is not a readily available resource, but money is, you can also help the Tacoma Film Festival reach its $10,000 goal by September 20. Donations support free film passes for those in need, including local students. They also support the community housing program, which assists filmmakers with costs associated with attending out-of-town screenings, and participating in talks and other events which extend the reach of their creative vision. There are many different perks offered for donations ranging from $50 to $1,000 including one of only 20 posters highlighting the event, signed by visual artist Art Chantry, available for donations of $500. Check out the website for more details.

Early bird passes retail through September 12 and cost $125. VIP regular price passes go on sale September 13 and cost $175. The all-access passes include much more than just movies: They’ll get you in to opening and closing night parties, as well as workshops. Find out more by visiting

Whether you host a filmmaker, purchase a pass, enter the virtual world of The Veldt or attend a single movie, the Tacoma Film Festival invites you to visit Grand Cinema and see stories come to life.

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