The Tacoma Film Festival goes virtual and brings itself to your home theater this year.

With COVID restrictions, the Tacoma Film Festival took a hybrid approach this year to its film festival, and while it did host a few select ‘experimental’ screenings in theatres for special release feature length films, most of the festival took place in a virtual screening room. 

Each year the festival is meant to bring light to independent films and filmmakers and to celebrate the art of film as a whole, The Grand Cinema is one of the only places possible to see obscure independent films in the Tacoma area. It is the passion and love for film that keeps The Grand and its festivals active every year, even in the worst of times. 

The beloved film festival is now on its 15th anniversary and according to the festival, it comprised over 125 plus films including 17 feature length, three of which highlight local Pacific Northwest filmmakers. Here are some highlights from the festival. 

“Since I Been Down”

The headlining film for the festival this year was a documentary taking place right here in Tacoma and is centered around the racial and economic injustices that plague the Pacific Northwest. If you’ve lived here long enough, you might have heard a multitude of stories about neighborhoods, such as Hilltop, which is where the film captured their backdrop for its message. 

The film documents past gang violence that ran rampant through the neighborhood of Hilltop in Tacoma and how that affected the community. The main purpose of the documentary is to show how the prevalence of systemic racism created a community that is neglected and often violent. It features interviews with past gang members and their families to highlight reflections on their past. 

The film then ventures to the prison system and interviews several inmates to discuss the neglect and dehumanization that they face while serving their time. They portray inmates having to provide education and basic needs for themselves while also suggesting ways in which prisons can be reformed into a place that nurtures, rather than punishes. 

The cinematography in the film is one of the film’s many strengths. Drone shots that overlook a vast neverending scene of trees and dense forests followed by slow and brooding shots of urban Tacoma landscapes highlight some of the best scenes of Tacoma and surrounding Pacific Northwest area. 

While the shots are beautiful and the situations that the film documents are fascinating as a Tacoma native, the film’s weakness lies within trying to fill that hour and 30 minute runtime. As a result, the documentary gradually starts to drag on and become repetitive, especially during scenes that took place within the prisons. 

This is definitely a must see if you want to know more about Tacoma’s more recent history and how social injustices are involved in impacting communities in the area. It’s also a good film to learn about the prison system and how it should be improved in a way that truly provides reformation and rehabilitation to help inmates. 

“Why Slugs Have No Legs”

“Why Slugs Have No Legs” is an 11 minute animated short film showing the lives of snails struggling to keep up with the extremely fast paced work environment that the flies are currently involved in. The slugs’ failure to assimilate in society causes them to find joy in small things — such as a slowly growing plant. 

The visuals are trippy and unique, the film clearly isn’t afraid to go to strange places while continuously stretching the reality of the world it creates. Even the darker moments of the film are made light by its whimsical, almost joking, explanation as to why slugs have no legs while flies have wings along with multiple arms. 

This short film critiques capitalism and the mentality that one has to be constantly working no matter what, or else those who conform to the economic system will take advantage of you. It makes you feel good knowing that it’s perfectly normal if you need to slow down in life sometimes.

This is a great animated film to check out if you enjoy whimsical animated films about creatures living like humans. It delivers a unique way of critiquing capitalism and deserves a watch. 

“Union County” 

The beautifully shot and melancholic film, “Union County,” is about a recovering drug addict and his journey to navigate the drug court recovery program. His ex-girlfriend visits him but he knows that in the end, he must let her go. 

This was a standout film among the narrative shorts category with this film’s beautiful shots of rural Ohio that call for introspection and reflection. The repetition and routine of the main character in this film plays heavily into themes of self improvement and developing new habits that foster positive change. 

This short will be for you if you enjoy introspective journeys and slow brooding films.

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