Arts & Entertainment

Highlights of the Tacoma Film Festival: Part 1

TFF is a valuable and rewarding experience by giving a platform to creative, innovative and distinctive independent films.

There was a special feeling in the air; The Grand Cinema was abuzz with chatter from filmmakers to press and movie lovers alike. Everyone who was gathered in the cramped room that smelled of popcorn was there to see one film for the opening night of the Tacoma Film Festival: “Walk Don’t Run: The Story of The Ventures.” The film was a self-proclaimed work-in-progress, and the crowd had the privilege to see it before it was released anywhere else.

Directed by Isaac Olsen, this film tells the story of The Ventures; the best-selling instrumental band of all time. The film was appropriately chosen to open the Tacoma Film Festival because the band is from Tacoma. It chronicles their legacy as well as their broad influence over some of the most famous musicians such as The Beach Boys, and grounds it all with a competent emotional through line. Above all, the viewers left the film with the sense that they knew the band members, not just their music. With creative editing and charming reenactments of moments not caught on tape originally, the film doesn’t feel like every other documentary. 

The night concluded with an after-party featuring The Adventures; a tribute band who allowed the audience to experience The Ventures music in person, creating an energetic atmosphere for the crowd to mingle in. 

Photo by Tacoma Film Festival | The entrance to The Grand Cinema in Tacoma.


A common thread with many of the films presented over the following days was politics and activism, most often found in documentaries. 

“Dark Cell Harlem Farm” succinctly described the horrors of the American prison system.

“A More Radiant Sphere” explored Canada’s history with communism through the writings of Joe Wallace and the director’s familial connection to him. These films were not only educational, but inspired the audience to seek out change.

“A Crack In The Mountain,” directed by Alastair Evans, explored the complicated issues of tourism and the economy in Vietnam along with incredible images of Vietnam’s S?n ?oòng Cave. 

More nature-oriented activism came with “Sentinels,” directed by Derek Knowles and Lawrence Lerew, a film about tree sitters. The film won an honorable mention for Best PNW Documentary at the festival awards. This was shown in tandem with “The Maple Cutter,” directed by Lynn M. Thomas, Danny Hoffman and Michael Sanderson, that explored the dynamics of the logging industry with regular people. Both were filmed in the Pacific Northwest. Providing a unique perspective, these films sparked discussions with their audiences.

Photo by Tacoma Film Festival | A college of the Tacoma Film Festival event.

Feature Narratives

Many films had stunning visuals that astounded audiences; “El Gran Movimiento,” a feature narrative filmed in Bolivia utilized the city of La Paz as a striking backdrop, with director Kiro Russo rarely using a close-up, and opting to zoom in from great distances. This really highlighted the scale of the city and the surrounding mountains. 

“El Gran Movimiento” won the Juror’s Award for Best Experimental Film at the event’s awards. 

Another film set in Bolivia was “Utama” but this time it was the rural Highlands, showcasing the stunning parched landscape and culture. The film also touched on poignant character work, winning the award for Best Narrative Feature at the festival. These awards were well-deserved, as these films offered original and compelling windows into different lives.

Character work was prioritized wonderfully in many films such as “White Building,” a Cambodian drama that follows a young man who has big dreams. It prioritizes quiet moments that give insight to the characters. 

“The Cathedral” shows the life of a boy growing up from the 1980s to the 2000s. Director Ricky D’Ambrose stylistically keeps his distance, using narration and objective camera work, but the film encompasses these eras well through archival footage and solid acting from the cast.

“Mother of Color,” directed by Mexican-American Dawn Jones Redstone, addressed the very relevant issues of working mothers, especially women of color, and how childcare (among other things) needs to be improved, focusing on the character’s hectic life.

These features brought a special understanding to an individual’s life and experiences, and through this, helped viewers remain attentive.

A stand-out experience came from Robert Machoian’s “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers,” which tells the story of a man desperate to prove his manhood and competence by going hunting alone, despite having no experience. Carried by an amazing performance from Clayne Crawford as the titular character, the film capably balances drama, comedy, and an overall sense of dread. Crawford charms the audience from his first moments and elicits plenty of laughs despite the seriousness of the situation. Sound design was employed in a unique way that made the audience feel as if they were in the mind of the main character. Supported by a sinister score, the film builds tension even in the most mundane moments. The audience was engaged the whole time and interacted gleefully with many scenes. 

Photo by Emilia Bell | The Tacoma Film Festival program.

Short Films

There were a multitude of amazingly creative short films, encompassing practically every genre, and even music videos. While there are too many to list, there were some stand-outs from the first few days of the festival. 

“A Month of Sundays,” by Nathan J Blanchard, a music video for Bronson Bragg, showcased creative animation (also by Blanchard) and delightfully humorous visuals. 

“The Dead Collectors,” directed by Brendan Cleaves, was a hilarious dark comedy with a polished look, and wonderful acting that was reminiscent of cult classic films like “Shaun of the Dead.” 

“To Be Honest,” directed by John Robert Hammerer, explored delicate emotions, complicated undertones, lovely cinematography and grounded acting performances. 

“What a Harvest” displayed campy but convincing acting from lead DeMorge Brown and had an original and strange plot. 

“Buddymovie,” directed by Ryan McGlade, was a quirky and unusual film that featured voice-over-like telepathic communication rather than conventional dialogue. 

Short films are a great way to experience different styles and voices in a short amount of time. During the festival, there were also many Q & A’s with the filmmakers, which was great fun for the audience to learn about their inspirations and processes with filmmaking. 

The Tacoma Film Festival provides a welcoming platform for independent films and filmmakers of all kinds. It is an opportunity for many to see films that are either not released yet, or have a limited release in general; It is also a great place to connect with filmmakers. Remember to check in next week for more highlights from the Tacoma Film Festival, and maybe even attend next year to experience it yourself!