Tacoma Film Festival kicks off with docu-thriller about immigrant detention center

A film that tells the story of teenage activists getting themselves purposely locked up at an immigration detention center owned by the company that runs the Northwest ICE Processing Center on Tacoma’s Tideflats is the opening entertainment at the Tacoma Film Festival on Thursday.

“The Infiltrators” mixes documentary footage with actors as it tells the story of the young people who went inside the Obama-era detention center in Florida to locate a man who was being held there.

The docu-thriller is one of more than 200 films, music videos and virtual reality works that will be shown at the 14th festival hosted by The Grand Cinema, Pierce County’s only nonprofit, art-house cinema.

Shorts, features, documentaries and the chance to meet over 60 filmmakers are some of the festival’s highlights.

‘The Infiltrators’

Co-directors Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera use actors and the people they portray to tell the story about members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance who infiltrated the Florida-based detention center.

“The Infiltrators” premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film is both suspenseful and informative, critics say.

Led by an Iranian refugee, the group of Dreamers sent a young man, Marco Saavedra, into the facility to locate detainee Claudio Rojas.

The film turns into what one critic called a “prison caper” as Saavedra learns the ways of prison life and connects with the older Rojas.

Both the Broward, Florida and the Tacoma facilities are operated by The GEO Group. GEO’s founder and CEO is George Zoley.

The film shows at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway. Tickets are $15.

Rivera will be at the opening event Thursday for a post-screening discussion facilitated by Matt Martinez, director of content for KNKX.

PNW shorts

Over four hours of short films made in the Pacific Northwest will be shown over four days.

“We want to highlight and support local filmmakers,” festival spokeswoman Tanya Tran said.

Subjects include documentaries on bikini baristas, Ramadan and the Tacoma Action Collective, and narrative films about witches, a “crazy cat lady” and an unusual Mexican love song.

The shorts will be shown over numerous days. Check schedule for show times.

‘My first film’

7:15 p.m. Oct. 6

Music video maker and artist Zia Anger performs a movie live. The subject of Anger’s show is 10 years worth of lost and abandoned films.

The performance begins with a projection of a laptop screen that Anger, sitting in the audience, is controlling. She communicates with the audience only by typing.

‘Last Night I Saw Your Smiling’

7 p.m. Oct. 9

Several Cambodian-themed movies are showing at the festival. The documentary “Last Night I Saw You Smiling” is about The White Building, home to nearly 500 families in Phnom Penh.

The building is condemned and in its last days, director Kavich Neang follows his family and neighbors as they pack and share memories and anxieties.

‘To the Stars’

Closing night feature, 7 p.m., Oct. 10

Washington state director Martha Stephens will attend the screening of her 2019 Sundance Film Festival official selection. The coming of age story follows a timid and cloistered teen girl in 1961 Oklahoma. When a new and enigmatic person enters her life, the girl develops her first authentic friendship.

Tacoma Film Festival

When: Oct. 3-10

Where: The Grand Cinema, 606 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma

Cost: $11; $8 matinee; $175 festival pass; student film pass is free to most films.

Information: tacomafilmfestival.com, 253-593-4474

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.