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25 New Faces of Independent Film hits Tacoma

The big reveal

Annie Silverstein's Night at the Dance screens opening night Aug. 15 at The Grand Cinema. Courtesy photo

It should come as no surprise that one of my favorite filmgoing experiences happened at The Grand Cinema. There I sat, in the darkened theater, watching creeping slow-burn of The House of the Devil. Admittedly, I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to horror movies, but I had never found myself curled up in my chair, covering my eyes with my hands, until I was masterfully manipulated by the artful hand of director Ti West. West's film was being presented at The Grand Cinema because of his inclusion in Filmmaker Magazine's annual roundup of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film.

Since 2010, The Grand Cinema has been taking advantage of the simultaneously obvious and genius concept of taking Filmmaker Magazine's yearly list and turning it into a film festival celebrating rising talent. Actors, writers, directors, animators and other facets of filmmaking are honored by the magazine, and then in turn are celebrated during the five-day festival at The Grand Cinema. Frequently, the honorees in question show up to introduce their films and participate in Q and A's. It's a must-see event for anyone fascinated by the continuing evolution of the art of film.

"What differentiates this festival from other ones in Pierce County is that we don't decide who are the 25 New Faces," says Grand Cinema's Director of Marketing and Communications Zach Powers. "The leading film periodical in America decides. It's the equivalent of Rolling Stone saying, ‘These are the best bands that you haven't heard of, and who will be really important for decades to come,' and then we get those bands together. That's the important part, because with the Tacoma Film Festival, we decide what's what. And we think that we know a lot about film, but at the end of the day, Filmmaker Magazine is staffed by some of the best film journalists in the country. That's part of the excitement, that this tastemaker is essentially programming it for us."

Once artists gain prominence, it can be hard to remember them not being known to us. Styles become signatures, words become iconic, and the way a person can hold a camera on their face becomes a magnet that draws our eyes. Previous artists highlighted by Filmmaker Magazine in their annual list include Miranda July, Lena Dunham, Craig Wedren, Ryan Gosling, and Peter Sarsgaard. Some of the honorees have been working at their craft for years, without acknowledgment, and some have burst onto the scene with such exuberance that's impossible to ignore.

>>> Darius Clark Monroe

"There's a few films that I'm really excited about, this year," says Powers. "Evolution of a Criminal just won Grand Jury Prize at the Full Frame Film Festival, which is one of the most prestigious documentary film festivals in the country. The director, Darius Clark Monroe, is coming here, and he'll be talking about his film afterward. The film is very well done, but also incredibly personal, because it looks into his story. As a teenager, he was convicted of robbing a bank, and received a short prison sentence. When he got out, he was able to get into the NYU Film School and pursue his dreams. But the film looks into the personal and cultural pressures that led to him committing these crimes, and looks into his guilt and the racial and socioeconomic issues and how they affected him."

As for me, I'm drawn to a couple films immediately. One that Powers recommended, and that I'm backing, is L for Leisure. The film episodic comedy follows a group of hipster assholes as they drift from scenic town to scenic town on lazy vacations in the early '90s. Absurdist intellectual conversations and listless musings follow. My eye is also drawn to the Spike Lee-produced Manos Sucias, which young, black Colombian men and their attempt to break free from the downtrodden and war-torn country and find peace in another place. Two movies that couldn't be more different, but that feature new artists bringing their own particular sensibilities to the screen.

In addition to the wealth of films being brought to The Grand Cinema this week, there will also be additions like an opening night mixer and a roundtable discussion from the filmmakers Monday night. Film, more than other arts, feels to me like a breathing organism. Events like this show you the insides.

25 NEW FACES OF INDEPENDENT FILM, Friday, Aug. 15-Wednesday, Aug. 20, Open Night Mixer 9:30 p.m. Aug. 15 (no cover), Roundtable Discussion 6 p.m. Aug. 18, The Grand Cinema, 606 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $5-$9.50, grandcinema.com

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