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253 Short Film Party

Twenty-nine teams raced through 72 hours to produce a flop or a hit

Philip Cowan, executive director of The Grand Cinema, hosts the annual 253 Short Film Party celebrating local filmmakers. Photo credit: Ganwich Photography

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Distinguishing itself from many of the other arts, film is defined by its massive amount of moving parts. Directors adapt the words of screenwriters, cinematographers work with the technical crew to enact visions onscreen, actors' performances are elevated by scores or soundtracks selected by yet another party, and it all comes together with the deft assembly of the editor. Even with all of these factors in place, and with millions of dollars riding on a film's success, history is littered with movies where everyone tried their best, yet still produced a flop. Careers can be broken with a high-profile disaster, and these occurrences are sadly prevalent.

The opposite end of the spectrum lies in events like the Grand Cinema's 253 Short Film Competition. This is a festival that finds its roots in the fervent, desperate work of the amateur filmmaker, where every second counts and limitations become intrinsic elements of the art being created. Adding color and interest is expensive, so filmmakers do a thing colloquially called "shooting the rodeo," where a random local event is filmed on the down-low to add some spice to the proceedings (the parade in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a fine example of this method). In the 253 Short Film Competition, shooting the rodeo becomes something of a necessity, thanks to the brutal requirements that come along with the event.

To explain: the 253 Short Film Competition, once known as the 72-Hour Film Festival, is a gathering of both semi-professional and amateur filmmakers, tasked with creating a movie no longer than 253 seconds (or a little less than four-and-a-half minutes) in just three days, with four requirements in place to keep them honest. Like with big budget movies, though, the results that come in after a weekend of teams competing in the 253 Short Film Competition are mixed. The requirements that are in place to ensure that a film hasn't been made, say, a year ago, sometimes become insurmountable obstacles to teams.

For this year, the requirements are as follows: incorporate public art, a flashback, a discarded item, and the line of dialogue, "A lot of people have it worse." These limitations change from year to year, and it's my opinion that this year's are somewhat forgiving, which should bode well for the 29 submissions that managed to make it in on time.

In speaking with Darcy Nelson, director of marketing and communications for the Grand Cinema, she elucidated some of the more enticing aspects of this year's 253 Short Film Party, which will be held at the Urban Grace Church.

"The audience voting piece is also fun, because you get to help elevate a team," says Nelson. "They get a $500 cash prize, and they're also going to screen their film at the Northwest Film Forum's Local Sightings Film Festival. So, it's not just the opportunity to screen here in Tacoma, but also the chance to share their work more broadly. ... We're also going to be interviewing filmmakers, kind of a filmmaker corner, so those artistically inclined, this is a good chance to network and meet others in the creative scene - filmmakers in particular."

As usual, with the 253 Short Film Party, there will be pizza, booze, and coffee at hand, for what is typically a fairly elongated affair. What began, in 2005, as a festival with 11 measly entrants, has ballooned into an event that is popping with talented teams and individuals. As with any festival of this sort, the results are a mixed bag. Part of the fun, though, is watching these artists grow, as they continue to return, year after year. Knowing how much can go wrong in a weekend is enough to make you envy their derring-do.

253 Short Film Party, 6 p.m., Friday, May 12, $10-$15, Urban Grace, 902 Market St., Tacoma, 253.593.4474,

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