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Tacoma Film Festival grows up with big-name films, a dedicated social space, and more than 100 premieres

Tacoma Film Festival has grown up.

Begun nine years ago with the works of mostly unknown filmmakers, the festival has become a fixture in the Northwest indie film scene — and proves it this year with some big names among its 100-plus offerings.

The one-week, four-venue festival, organized by The Grand Cinema, also is expanding its social scene, renting a newly renovated event space in the historic Rector Antiques building just down the road for post-film mixers — beginning on opening night with “Laggies,” starring Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell.

“I wanted to get something for everyone,” said festival director Laura Marshall. Now in her second year in the position, Marshall said she’s been able to network with some of the bigger producers in the indie film circuit.

The big names start Thursday night.

“Laggies” is a new big-budget indie production from Seattle director Lynn Shelton (“Your Sister’s Sister,” “Touchy Feely”). Fusing romantic comedy with a coming-of-age theme, the $15 million film stars Knightley as a 20-something slacker who can’t decide what to do with her life, so she moves in with a precocious 16-year-old (Moretz, recently in “The Equalizer”) and her bemused father (Sam Rockwell). Having convinced her California producers to move the location to Seattle, Shelton makes the most of the skyline with aerial scene setters, but the real focus is interior — Knightley’s flawed character, and the decisions we make in order to grow up.

“It’s a great comedy,” Marshall said. “I like to keep things local, especially since this is a bigger film. Tacoma Film Festival audiences are realizing that Northwest filmmakers have real chops.”

A world away from the perfect Elizabeth in “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, Knightley tackles the slightly irritating Megan — similar to the complex Iris in “Your Sister’s Sister,” though Shelton didn’t write this script — with honesty and guts, but the writing hovers on the ridiculous side. Moretz’s Annika could use some more depth, though Rockwell is convincing as the protective father who still manages to fall in love with the immature woman who falls into his life.

The film, recently screened at Seattle International Film Festival’s Women in Cinema series, will open nationwide Oct. 24.

More big names follow through the festival’s opening weekend: Film critic Leonard Maltin will attend the Friday night and Saturday afternoon movies next weekend, leading discussions afterward. And while the Saturday film is Maltin’s choice — Frank Capra’s “State of the Union” (1948) with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn — Friday night’s movie is “The Two Faces of January,” a political noir thriller released in February at the Berlin International Film Festival and starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac.

The other big change with TFF is that it now has its own party venue. The opening night post-film mixer, the reception for Maltin (Oct. 10) and closing night dinner (Oct. 16) will all be held in the TFF Lounge — the front space in the newly renovated Rector Antiques building just a block downhill from The Grand on St. Helens Avenue.

Still being touched up a week before the festival’s opening, the building is now owned and occupied by HHJ Architects. With soaring ceilings and exposed beams, ceiling-high windows on both street sides, paneled wooden doors and a new gray coat of paint, the 1929 building has been revamped in a gritty way that does credit to the many events that once took place there amid a succession of car dealerships.

“It’s a great spot to hang out,” Marshall said. “It’ll be nice to have a dedicated space where filmmakers can meet film-goers. That creates a better festival for next year.”

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