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12th Annual Tacoma Film Festival

Dozens of films and filmmakers descend on Tacoma for a week of artistic expression

Palme D’Ors at Cannes winner The Square is a highlight of this year’s Tacoma Film Festival. Photo credit: Platform Productions

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We've survived the cruelly sun-filled dystopia of summer, and have come out on the other side in the slightly darker autumn. Movies suddenly become better. With big theaters soon filling up with Oscar bait, the Tacoma Film Festival (TFF) also returns, celebrating its 12th year of existence, and its selection is once again enormous and unwieldy -- a testament to how much creative energy is shot out into the world on a yearly basis.

"We had a record amount of submissions this year, at a little over eighteen hundred," said TFF director and programmer Laura Nyhuis. "Overall, we got a lot of films about being yourself and overcoming obstacles that are in your way in life -- just a lot of really uplifting films, which is nice to see after last year, when we had a lot of downer films (laughs). It's nice to see some positive views."

With so many options to choose from, one can get overwhelmed trying to make a decision. When it comes to festivals so full of things to see, like TFF, it becomes imperative to trust the organizers and see as much as you can, regardless of how much you know about the movie. It's in these blind viewings that you truly get to have a pure movie-going experience. Nyhuis, for her part, thinks there are certain films that absolutely must be seen.

"I'm really excited to show Everything Beautiful is Far Away; past 25 New Faces Pete Ohs and Andrea Sisson directed a new film with Julia Garner that is beautifully done," said Nyhuis. "It's very much an art piece, so if you're not into the slower movies, you may not enjoy it as much, but it's kind of a sci-fi adventure drama with a robot. There's also The Square, which won the Palme D'Ors at Cannes this year, and if you like foreign films, I highly suggest it. There's also For the Birds, a U.S. premier from South Africa, and we have the lead actress coming over to speak."

When Nyhuis talks about the 25 New Faces, she's referring to the 25 New Faces of Independent Film, a yearly roundup from Filmmaker magazine, which catalogues the best and brightest coming up in the field today. Directors, actors, writers, editors, cinematographers, VFX artists and other people who pour their souls into making movies end up on this list, and TFF showcases them every year, bringing nearly all of them to the festival to present their work.

"One of the best parts of the 25 New Faces program is the surprise," said Wade Neal, who's worked to arrange the 25 New Faces screenings for the festival. "Most of these works, you can't see; they're unfinished projects, or they're just getting out there on the film festival circuit. ... We're getting to see these filmmakers at the very early outset of their careers, and a lot of them go on to do great things in the film industry. ... Tacoma's been doing this for years, and every year we have this incredible cauldron of creativity."

Neal also advises that we pay special attention to secret screenings that'll be happening during the festival.

Local hero Bill Nye gets the biography treatment to open the Tacoma Film Festival. Photo credit: Tacoma Film Festival

"These are films that we can't even say are playing here," said Neal. "It's really exciting to walk in, not know anything about the film or the filmmaker, and get to see it first-hand. A lot of times these films go on to debut at Sundance or elsewhere, and we can't tell anybody whether they played here or not, forever and always."

Of course, there are some marquee films being showcased at the festival, like opening movie Bill Nye: Science Guy, a documentary about local hero Nye and all he's done -- and continues to do -- to foster a love and respect for science in the world. Closing film The Ballad of Lefty Brown stars legends like Bill Pullman and Peter Fonda, and is a new entry in today's modern canon of Westerns. Isaac Olsen, Tacoma's resident rock documentarian and brazen film stylist, will also be showing his newest film, Semi-Iconic: The Ballad of Dick Rossetti, about the former 107.7 The End DJ and Pacific Northwest iconoclast. That's two ballads to look forward to.

If you're worried about your entertainment dollar being spent on something you may not like, you can rest assured that whatever you see during the short film packages will be over quickly. TFF has even gone so far as to compile these shorts into thematically-linked blocks, so you can sort of know what you're getting into.

"When I'm programming, I try to build a story within all of the smaller stories," said Nyhuis. "So, we have ‘The Best is Yet to Come,' which is a shorts package about people in their seventies and older doing amazing things. We also have a shorts package called ‘Overcoming Adversity,' where it's someone who may be disabled or a minority, and in their own story, they conquer whatever obstacles with which they are dealt."

There are also shorts packages that deal with sci-fi, action, death, horror and collections of 25 New Faces pieces. Family-friendly shorts programs are also on tap. On the bleeding edge of technology, there is also the Veldt, a studio that will be providing virtual-reality experiences.

"The Veldt will be in King's Books this year, and we have eighteen virtual-reality films and experiences that people can enjoy completely for free," said Nyhuis. "We have two VRs that are fully immersive, so instead of being in an office chair, where you're turning around and enjoying a 360-degree video, you're in a room and have controllers and you're interacting with the video."

It's strongly advisable to check out TFF's entire program, and perhaps to purchase a VIP pass, which will allow you access to all sorts of after-parties and experiences the general public won't be able to see. Whatever you do, don't sleep on the metric ton of films that have once more found their way to Tacoma.

Tacoma Film Festival, Oct. 5-12, program and schedule at

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