There might be more big names than usual included in this year’s Tacoma Film Festival: screenings of films featuring actors Keira Knightley, Sam Rockwell, Kirsten Dunst, and Viggo Mortensen; filmmakers Lynn Shelton and Hossein Amini; plus appearances by film critic Leonard Maltin (see accompanying interview).
But the ninth incarnation of Tacoma’s biggest indie film fest is still fiercely supportive of locally made film, with about 30 Northwest films screening both individually and in special, grouped time slots. There also will be filmmaking workshops and plenty of social opportunities for film folks to mingle and meet audiences.
“I wanted to get something for everyone,” says Laura Marshall, now in her second year of directing the festival, which is organized by The Grand Cinema and held there as well as three other Tacoma venues. “There’s documentary, mockumentary, drama, comedy, shorts, family movies.”
But Marshall also acknowledges that with one year under her belt, she’s better networked with the film community and has snagged some crowd pleasers like last night’s opening film “Laggies” (shot in Seattle by Shelton and starring Knightley and Rockwell) and tonight’s “The Two Faces of January,” starring Dunst, Mortensen and Oscar Isaac. She’s also pulled in Maltin for two days of pre- and post-film discussions and book signings. Even Philip Cowan, director of The Grand, acknowledges that Maltin is the biggest film celebrity they’ve ever had at the TFF.
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“I wanted to have someone that people would remember,” Marshall explains, adding that Maltin was someone who “went through different generations” of the festival’s patrons and could help enhance the conversation around film that the indie movie house encourages.
And among the festival’s 100-plus movies, festival-goers will find seven Tacoma-area films.
One of those is “Weeping Willow,” a fan film modeled on “The Hunger Games” and made by a group of teens in Enumclaw and Bonney Lake. Winner of this spring’s 253Film Collective’s Shot for Shot contest, the 20-minute short — screening on Monday and Tuesday evenings as part of the 253Film Shorts program — is an example of how the local film community supports up-and-coming filmmakers.
“This was the biggest thing we’d ever done,” says producer Rachel Poling. The seven-person Rogue Zhou Productions, made up of home-schooled high-school students and recent graduates, shot most of the film in Buckley with a full cast and crew (including 24 “tributes”) over four months. They’ve entered and won in one other film festival, but Tacoma’s is the first they’ll actually attend.
“It’s a big deal,” Poling says. “We’re excited. And it’ll be fun to be with our film friends and watch films together. The 253 community is very welcoming and encouraging.”
Ronald Lagman is another filmmaker who’s benefitted from the synergy of the Tacoma Film Festival and the 253Film Collective. His 11-minute short, “Quiet Move,” tells the story of a shy girl who finds a way to the boy she admires through chess. Mostly silent, the film has a clever twist at the end and includes plenty of Tacoma footage: the chess tournament is shot inside the Knights of Pythias hall downtown.
“The Tacoma Film Festival is a great venue for local filmmakers,” says Lagman, a Seattle Central Community College film graduate who’s back in filmmaking after some years in the Navy. He based the film — one of five shorts making up a full-length feature — on his own experience as a chess player growing up in the Philippines, saying that it emphasizes the process of finding confidence in what you do.
“It shines a light on our work. I’ve found that the festival audience is very supportive and proud to see Tacoma filmmakers not being overshadowed by Seattle, and producing good work. We’re a small city, but it’s perfect.”
Other local films include “Brave New Wild,” a counter-culture comedy about absurdist rock climbers; “The Maury Island Incident” about local UFO sightings; and “Shackitecture,” about a rural Washington architect.
Those who have been attending the festival since its 55-film beginnings will notice a difference in the quality of local films, says Marshall.
“The standard has definitely improved (in the last few years),” she says.