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Tacoma Film Festival

150 movies from a huge array of voices, plus a glimpse at filmmaking's future

Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson in the outlaw family drama, Trespass Against Us, which opens the Tacoma Film Festival Friday night at 7 p.m. Photo credit: Nicola Dove

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At the best of times, being a lover of film provides an unending journey of discovery, sifting through the hundreds of films released each year in search of gems. This feedback loop of sorting and viewing and discarding and embracing new sights and voices has been reinforced in recent years by streaming services, which give increased visibility to movies that wouldn't have been given a theatrical release as recently as 10 years ago. Along with a vastly expanded selection comes an expansion of variety, giving viewers more opportunities to find the best that film has to offer.

Still, even with technology allowing audiences an unprecedented ease of access to films and filmmakers from every walk of life, it cannot be overstated how important it is to have the kind of proximity that Tacoma has to a place like The Grand Cinema. While simply having the privilege of a local arthouse theater would be enough of a luxury, The Grand Cinema goes out of its way to curate experiences designed to broaden one's appreciation of film, especially in the last few years - a locally-sourced short-film festival; Weird Elephant, which screens adventurous genre flicks and oddities at the end of every month; the Tuesday Film Series, which brings niche movies every week; and, especially, the annual Tacoma Film Festival.

Established in 2006, the Tacoma Film Festival (TFF) quickly established itself in the South Sound for its ambition and scope, showcasing a week of films from around the world. Sometime after TFF's inception, The Grand Cinema also introduced the 25 New Faces of Independent Film Festival, which drew its booking inspiration from an annual list put out by Filmmaker Magazine that highlighted up-and-comers on the film scene, with a diverse group of previous recipients including True Detective director Cary Fukunaga, Lena Dunham, and Swiss Army Man weirdoes The Daniels. The decision was made a couple years ago to fold 25 New Faces into TFF, creating an impressive assemblage of content that will screen from Oct. 6-13.

"I like to see what the filmmakers bring to the table," said TFF Director/Programmer Laura Marshall, who's been with TFF since 2012. "Every year, it's different. Last year, we had a lot of romantic comedies, and this year it's more drama-driven. It's interesting to see the ebb and flow of different themes that the filmmakers come up with, and what kind of stories are told. ... We had over twelve hundred submissions this year. In the first year I started, it was a little over three hundred, and it keeps growing exponentially."

As with any film festival, the prevailing wisdom is just to dive in and see as much as you can, but Marshall reflects on certain noteworthy aspects of this year's TFF.

"We have a lot of films from women filmmakers and minority filmmakers," said Marshall, "like The Last Laugh, which is directed by Ferne Pearlstein, and Women Who Kill, directed by Ingrid Jungermann - and she was actually a past 25 New Face. We also have a lot of LGBT films, as well."

TFF is never short on fascinating documentaries, and The Last Laugh sounds like a doozy: featuring interviews with tons of legendary Jewish comedians (including Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried, and many more), the film examines the question of whether it can ever really be funny to joke about the Holocaust. Consider my interest piqued. Meanwhile, Women Who Kill is a narrative film about a true crime fanatic who suspects her ex-girlfriend's new partner might actually be a killer. Just in those two movies, we cover some of the vast spectrum of stories being told at this year's TFF.

One of the most exciting events taking place this year is a weekend-long exhibition called "The Veldt". Featuring five films in 3D and virtual reality, "The Veldt" purports to give a glimpse into filmmaking's future. As we move further away from celluloid and open up the possibilities of digital, it seems only natural to expect the way we perceive movies to continue to drastically change. Those interested in how technology will affect storytelling are strongly encouraged to check out "The Veldt," being held at the Breaker Studio Gallery on the weekend of the festival.

With around 150 films being screened - some of which are being kept a secret - there's really no way to go wrong with 2016's Tacoma Film Festival.

Tacoma Film Festival, Oct. 6-13, various locations,

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