It’s hard to put into words just how much I love cinema. I’ve always seen it as a looking glass into a visual fable — fictional tales that just might offer something back to the audience for taking the time to watch them. Or they might suck. Either way, there’s something magical about seeing a movie in a room full of strangers. Once the credits roll, there’s a collective hum in the air. Sometimes it’s negative. Sometimes it’s positive.
Both experiences stick out, which makes movies a fun pastime. So imagine my glee upon hearing that the Tacoma Film Festival was gearing up for another year. I did what any cinephile would do and dropped some cash on the VIP pass. That meant free access to every screening, the lounges and the secret after parties.
I’ve never had a busier set of classes in the time I’ve attended UW Tacoma than I do this quarter. Because of this, I — and so many other students — are unable to find the time to go to these sorts of things. I wasn’t able to attend the opening ceremony, but the real events began the next evening. Tacoma is a very aesthetically pleasing locale, with distinct neighborhoods. Proctor is no exception — it’s home to the Blue Mouse Theater.
As the name might suggest, most of the theater’s decor is indeed a shade of blue: royal seats, sky walls, teal curtains draped over everything. I found a close parking spot and flashed my pass in order to get a ticket for the 9 p.m. screening of “The Square.”
Foreign films were never my thing until they became one of my fields of study, and “The Square” did a great job convincing me they can be as good of films as ones from America. Sweden chose this film to represent them at the Oscars in the Best Foreign Film category. It follows a handsome museum curator as he goes through his day. The gimmick is that almost every scene involves an awkward human interaction of some kind, be it a bad sexual experience or just not knowing when to break a stalled conversation (relatable). One scene involving a performance artist went on for almost 10 minutes with no cuts, and I only grew more uncomfortable as it went on. It was a brilliant piece of filmmaking, and I hope others have the opportunity to see it.
I was expecting to get out at 10 p.m. and head to a preview party for “The Veldt,” a virtual reality workshop over at King’s Books in the St. Helens neighborhood, but the movie went till 11 p.m. instead. I ran out of the theater into a heavy rain and rushed to my car. After another five minutes of walking through the dark and stormy streets of the inner city because I couldn’t find a parking spot, it paid off.
“The Veldt” preview party was awesome. For starters, open bar. They gave me a ticket at the door and told me to have fun. The next thing I noticed after grabbing a beer was the buffet table. Next were the lights. Having just seen “Blade Runner 2049,” the intense LEDs, DJs and the hula hooping girls made it feel like a science fiction film; especially with the virtual reality headset stations set up over the storeroom floor. I set my beer aside, put one over my head, and there I was on a desert planet deflecting Stormtrooper blasters with a lightsaber. VR has never appealed much to me since I don’t believe the technology is there yet, but those headsets made a convincing argument to the contrary. I tried some other cool games, even making the high score on a hang gliding simulator, at least until a 10-year-old showed us how it was done.
The next day began back at the Blue Mouse Theater, which was now packed with families. They would be showing a dozen kid-friendly shorts, both live-action and animated. There were definitely some creative ones, like a Claymation alphabet sing-along that briefly made me wonder if I had been slipped some LSD.
Others were fine, with the worst being meh, but no one was expecting the next Pixar hit.
It was back to “The Veldt” after that. During the daytime they had shut off all the lights, rendering the atmosphere inert, which didn’t bother me much since I was there for more VR action. I even beat that ten-year-old’s high score, so there.
Next up was the Grand Cinema, a significant locale in the downtown Tacoma Theater District that shows a lot of oddball movies you wouldn’t see at the Regal. The film I was seeing was “For Akeem,” a documentary feature following the struggles of an African-American girl trying to graduate high school while living in the “hood” of St. Louis. Provocative film, but it felt like I watched every black stereotype play out on-screen.
The Grand has a VIP Lounge that was stacked with refreshments. There was even a photo banister if you wanted to look like you were on a red carpet. The carpet was actually red, with floral patterns. That night at the Dystopian Brewery was the awards ceremony, which would’ve been more fun if they weren’t two hours late starting something that ultimately lasted five minutes.
It did provide the opportunity to brush shoulders with the filmmakers who were attending though, including the “For Akeem” director.
I had to talk louder than normal so she could hear me over the blaring music, which made my throat sore. When I started coughing, she asked me if I was alright, to which I replied, “I’m sorry. I don’t usually talk this much.” Didn’t see much of her after that — shocker. It was like I was reenacting a scene out of “The Square.” But I did wind up in a conversation about the industry with a few sound designers. They got a kick out of hearing about my lame films, and they thought I was a contestant in the festival. Had to let them down easy.
The final event was at the Grand, and it was a panel on the independent distribution of films. The main takeaway was to never put your stuff on YouTube if you want to get it distributed, so for any aspiring filmmakers out there who want exposure, exercise some caution.
The kicker of the whole thing was that my schedule couldn’t allow for more. The experience was informative and fun.
I highly recommend attending any of these events next year, even if you can only make a few. You just might learn something new.
Seth is an entertainment critic for the Tacoma Ledger, majoring in arts, media, and culture. He looks forward to seeing many more movies in theaters while struggling to find a job.