For two years in a row, the Grand Cinema brought a celebrity guest to speak to the community. Last year it was film reviewer Lenard Malten; this year it was famous actor John Ratzenberger.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ratzenberger’s work, he is known for his role as “Cliff Calvin”, the know-it-all mail in an 1980’s sitcom Cheers and as a voice-actor for every Pixar film. The roles that he is most known for are played Toy Story’s Hamm the Piggy Bank, Car’s Mack the Truck, and the cockroach “P.T. Flea” from A Bug’s Life.
You may be thinking, why Ratzenberger? He isn’t known for acting in any independent films. What relevance does he have to the Tacoma community? Director of Marketing and Communications Darcy Nelson explained that “This event was made for people who wanted more of a VIP experience.” Nelson explained further that by incorporating a guest star into their festival, it gave them a bigger audience and pushes them to explore more films at the festival. Not only was he chosen to gain more visibility for the festival but also because of his local ties of having lived in Nation Island and the fact that it was the 20th anniversary for Toy Story (1995): Pixar’s first computer animated feature film.
Ratzenberger came to Tacoma on October 12th, where Toy Story was screened at the Blue Mouse Theatre and John did a Q&A session on Saturday evening at Annie Wright School’s Historic Hall. The Tacoma community learned about Ratzenberger’s life in London as an improvisational comedian in the 1970’s, how he got the role of “Calvin” in Cheers, and the beginning of Pixar studios and his heavy involvement with the company.
Ratzenberger explained that he fell into acting when he had to replace of the main lead on opening night of a college drama production and did not have any of his lines memorized. For the first part of the performance, he was stumbling but then he decided to make stuff up, making him the comic relief of the performance. This incident was a pivotal moment in discovering his passion for improvisation.
Living in London for 10 years, Ratzenberger was brought to L.A. to audition for the sitcom Cheers: a sitcom based in Boston where a bunch of people in a bar sit around and make jokes. He confessed that it was his first audition and that it went terribly. But before he left the room, he asked the director, “Do you have a bar know-it-all?,” arguing that every bar has one. After a few impressions of the bar-know-it-all and a brief explanation of the purpose of this character, he became a family member to the classic sitcom Cheers.
25 New Faces of Independent Film
Every year Filmmaker Magazine creates a list of up-and-coming actors, writers and directors called 25 New Faces of Independent Film. For the first time, 25 New Faces showcased 20 of their films at the festival. This includes hosting a discussion panel with the filmmakers as well.
While Ratzenberger was the comic relief, the screening of the film on Saturday night, Killing Them Safely is holding the police accountable for using unnecessary force of tasers. This film is a societal critique on the company “Taser International” based in Scottsdale, Arizona and their contribution to making tasers the go-to weapon in the police force since 1999. The film argues that even though the purpose of the taser is to be a safer alternative to guns, there have been 500 taser-related deaths in the U.S. between 2001-2012.
Film producer Jamie Goncalves explained that his purpose for creating the film was to make the legal system realize that police need a better understanding of what they are using, how to use it, and how it affects the community. Goncalves concludes his argument when he stated, “If someone is having a mental breakdown and you taze them, you are elevating the situation.”
On October 13th, Goncalves and other filmmakers from 25 New Faces appeared at the Grand Cinema for a Q&A session with the public. The audience asked filmmakers about their past experience working with film, their role as the director and their thoughts, their ability to produce creative work on a budget, making their film stand out from the crowd, and distribution.