Arts & Culture

Tacoma Film Festival celebrates 10 years with 100 films

Still from “The Village of Middlevale,” a Tacoma-made feature mockumentary in the Tacoma Film Festival.
Still from “The Village of Middlevale,” a Tacoma-made feature mockumentary in the Tacoma Film Festival. Courtesy

It’s a big cinematic leap from “Toy Story” to a 2015 short film about a teenager whose near-naked body gets shared around social media. But at the Tacoma Film Festival, now 10 years old, it sums up the diversity of film the festival embraces, from kid-friendly animation to cutting edge, from shorts to features, from Tacoma-made to films so internationally high-flying that they can’t even be named. And with events ranging from a meet-and-greet with Pixar voice actor John Ratzenberger to a discussion with many of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of film, the festival really does have something for everyone.

“It’s our 10th year, and my third as director,” says festival director Laura Marshall. “I feel everything is coming together really well.”

Headlining the opening events is celebrity John Ratzenberger, who played mailman Cliff in the TV series “Cheers” and who has voiced roles in every single Pixar movie, from Mack the truck in “Cars” to Fritz in the recent “Inside Out.” He’ll attend a screening of “Toy Story” (in which he voiced Hamm the piggy bank) at the Blue Mouse Theater and an evening meet-and-greet at Annie Wright School (both Oct. 10). This year marks the 20th anniversary of “Toy Story,” the world’s first computer-animated feature film.

“Parents will be able to share with their kids the experience of watching one of their favorite films that they saw as a child up on the big screen,” said Marshall.

“The thing about (mid-town festivals like this) is that the people who act and make movies mostly come from places like Tacoma,” said Ratzenberger in a phone interview. “I grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I raised my kids on Vashon, so I have a great fondness for that part of the world. It’s a well-kept secret.”

The actor, who has done live comedy improv, TV and film, as well as voice acting, likes attending events like the family screening of “Toy Story,” which will be followed by a Q&A with donuts and milk.

“With kids 4 years and under, it’s sometimes difficult for them to understand the whole process of voice-over and animation,” he says. “You see the parents saying, ‘Look, there’s Hammy the pig,’ and point to me — and the kids look at them like, ‘Are you nuts?’ But the older ones definitely get it, and I enjoy it immensely, the looks on their faces.”

Also new this year is the screening of films by Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film, announced in July and until now screened as a separate event at The Grand in August. This year, however, the films — and 21 of the 25 filmmakers — are part of the festival. They range from SXSW award-winning comedy “Krisha” to “Share,” a Cannes award-winning short about a girl who has to face her peers after an explicit video of her goes viral.

“We felt it was more a festival-centric program,” explained Marshall, of the move. “We could add quality and unique experiences for local and world filmmakers, and the chance for audiences to talk with them as well.”

One of those filmmakers is Theo Anthony, a 26-year-old from Baltimore whose filmmaking style has been influenced by both the music videos he started out with and the six months he spent as a freelance journalist covering unrest in the Congo. His 13-minute short “Chop My Money,” screening Oct. 11, follows three tough-talking street boys, using their voices as narrative and working a sensitive lens to alternate shots of smoking, drinking and fighting with their heartbreakingly childlike games. Playing with it is Anthony’s 2015 “Peace in the Absence of War,” a kind of anti-documentary that trains the lens on the media and police in the wake of the Baltimore protests about the death in custody of Freddie Gray.

“A lot of work I do deliberately confronts the idea of objective narrative,” says Anthony, a recent graduate of the Werner Herzog Rogue film school. “There’s a lot of great journalism work out there, but you often fall into the trap of victimizing people. This film ... returns some agency to the subjects. The outsider narrative can be pretty damaging.”

Anthony says he was “pretty surprised” at being named one of the 25 Faces, and he’s excited about coming to Tacoma.

“I feel like a little kid at this thing,” he said.

In addition to three feature screenings and three shorts packages, plus an Oct. 10 party with the filmmakers and an Oct. 11 Q&A, the festival will hold three “secret screenings”: films made by three of the 25 New Faces directors who are saving their official premieres for bigger-name festivals — and so can’t be actually named here. All are features, a coming-of-age film, a “gender-bending desert pilgrimage” and a family drama still in the making. All filmmakers will be in attendance, and taking feedback.

“It’s something the festival can do to help filmmakers,” explained Marshall. “It’s a unique exposure because you can’t share it with the rest of the world. It’s just Tacoma.”

While the festival doesn’t have an overall theme, many sub-themes coalesced while Marshall and her judging team (Seattle filmmaker and magazine editor Daniel Hoyos, Tacoma filmmaker and producer Jason Ganwich, Talkhouse Film editor Nick Dawson and projectionist Lisa Fruichantie at The Grand Cinema) made their selections. Whittling down more than 1,000 submissions to around 100 films, they have chosen shorts that fall into thematic packages (sports documentaries, animated, “couples therapy,” international and local) and features that balance fiction with documentary and comedy.

Every year the festival has had a component of films made by Washington residents (who get free submission), but this is the first year to have a whole feature film made by Tacomans. “The Village of Middlevale,” screening Oct. 14, is a mockumentary about medieval enthusiasts who attempt to live their historical dream. Directed by Tacoma team Nathan Blanchard and Amber Celletti, the film features many local actors who did, in fact, build their own medieval town on a friend’s property outside Olalla before proceeding to improvise their way through a spoof that gives more than a nod to Monty Python.

“We got the idea walking around Europe and thinking we’d like to throw a big Renaissance party,” says Blanchard, who’s 25 and been making movies since the third grade. “Then we thought, we can’t just throw a party — it has to be a movie.” They raised some money on Kickstarter and worked for two years cutting down trees to make the set. Celletti made most of the costumes, and they got friends and film colleagues to play the way-too-serious history geeks who make up the cast.

“I don’t think we ever had the party,” Blanchard says. “We were too exhausted.”

Other events include the opening night screening of “When I Live My Life Over Again” (Thursday) with an after-party at The Grand, the West Coast premiere of “Tumbledown” with soundtrack by local artist Damien Jurado at the Blue Mouse Theater (Oct. 9) with after-party at Europa Bistro, and the closing night screening of the drama “Lamb” (Oct. 15) at The Grand, which hosts the festival.

“There’s truly something for everyone,” says Marshall.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568



When: Thursday-Oct. 15.

Where: Various Tacoma venues, see the website for details. Tickets and brochure available at The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett St., Tacoma.

Tickets: Single $10 general; $8 matinee; $7.50 Grand Cinema members, non-member seniors, students and military; and $5.50 member seniors, students, military; 10-movie punch cards $75; VIP pass $150 (special events have separate prices)

Information: 253-593-4474,,