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Three tales from the Tacoma Film Festival

Stories behind the stories

VALERIE WEISS: Her Losing Control screens Sunday, Oct. 9.

How about a magic trick? Most films perform one; they conceal as much as they reveal. They have us so mesmerized by the world flashing onscreen that we barely tune in to that other world just beyond the frame, that of the film's creators. They cover up their own tracks so nicely, sacrificing their real stories to serve the fictions spun for an audience's enjoyment.

Well, the curtain comes down at this year's Tacoma Film Festival. From Oct. 6-13, The Grand Cinema will blanket this town in over one hundred shorts and features. All of us will find something worth seeing, I'm sure. But beyond keeping movie lovers happy, TFF exists for producers, actors, writers and directors. Many will come from near and far to mingle with viewers and share their works, as well as a part of themselves - share the stories behind the stories. Here are just three.

Valerie Weiss - Losing Control

As a former physics student I have to love any movie that starts off with a quote from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. But don't let the science jargon scare you - Valerie Weiss directed this fresh rom-com with equal doses of head and heart.

If the indie filmmaker, unencumbered by studio meddling, can freely add elements from her personal life into the story, then Losing Control is part autobiography. The heroine, Samantha, struggles to complete her doctorate at Harvard, just as Weiss did a decade ago in the badass-sounding field of x-ray crystallography. (She even called her new movie company PhD Productions.) Though now living in L.A. and working far from the lab, science still fascinates her and informs her art.

"What attracts me to science is this idea of right or wrong, (that) you can figure things out (in life) using science," Weiss says.

Samantha takes this notion to the extreme, hinging her relationship with boyfriend Ben on an experiment that goes ridiculously awry. Fortunately Weiss didn't resort to these measures in her own life; she married and recently had her second child. Find her at the Grand Cinema screening of Losing Control, Sunday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m.

Andrew Finnigan - Fantastic Confabulations

Tacoma's Andrew Finnigan has also made a deeply personal film with Fantastic Confabulations. He and David Harlos, friends since fourth grade, conceived this tale of longtime pals Ray and Wes. Besides writing and directing, Finnigan took his involvement one step further and tackled the role of Ray. Guess who plays Wes?

Finnigan gambled on casting first-time actor Harlos as the lead, yet it pays off in an authentic onscreen relationship. They reminisce, tell corny jokes, and even sit through dead pockets of silence. Done without trying to impress, their ease around each other carries the film and will win you over.

"We lived out our true ups and downs (in the film)," says Finnigan, "and to play with that and bring it onscreen is more of an intimate and difficult thing to do than expected."

Finningan will attend the 8:30 p.m. showing of Fantastic Confabulations at The Grand Cinema, Monday, Oct. 10. In case you miss it, the film runs again the following day at 2 p.m.

Harry Tchinski - Spaceship Terror

When I met him for the first time, 56-year-old Graham resident Harry Tchinski looked how someone who makes movies called Spaceship Terror should look: Hawaiian shirt, Bluetooth in one ear, goatee. At the same time his image is lightyears from this twisted gorefest - a story about a maniac picking off scantily-clad ladies in a runaway spacecraft. Have I died and gone to B-movie heaven?

Tchinski strove for shlock in every visual element, including sets, performances and costumes (though it was his wife and co-producer, Wendy, who decided on undies for the female cast). A Frankenstein's monster of '50s camp, grindhouse and Roger Corman, Spaceship Terror definitely feels like the discarded relic of another era.

"I look at it as a malt shake movie ... something you would sit and watch for fun on a Saturday night and have a good laugh," Tchinski says. The Grand found the ideal time slot for this lovely mess: 10:45 p.m. on Saturday, Oct 8. If any offering at the 2011 Tacoma Film Festival needs a rowdy crowd throwing catcalls at the screen, Spaceship Terror screams for it.

Tacoma Film Festival 2011

Venues: The Grand Cinema, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma School of the Arts Theater, University of Puget Sound, Annie Wright School, UW Tacoma Carwein Auditorium, Blue Mouse Theatre, 253.572.6062

Single Tickets: $8.50, $7 Grand Cinema member, $6.50 matinee, senior, student, military, $5 Grand Cinema members matinee

All acces festival pass $125, Weekend Pass $50

Opening Night: Thursday Oct. 6, 6:30 p.m., $15 Grand Cinema member, $20 non member

Awards Ceremony: Sunday, Oct. 9, 3 p.m., $8 Grand Cinema member, $10 non-member

Closing Night: Thursday, Oct. 13, 6:30 p.m., $15 Grand Cinema member, $18 non-member

LINK: Our Tacoma Film Festival preview

LINK: TFF Director Emily Alm's picks

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