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253-Second Short Film Festival

Racing to the screen

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Over the past weekend, some 30 groups of ambitious filmmakers took to the streets to frantically craft short films for The Grand Cinema, all in service of the 253-Second Short Film Festival. Formerly known as the 72-Hour Film Festival, the event got rebranded this year to help further distinguish itself from the rest of the time-crunch short film competitions. Instead of getting the five minutes they used to get, teams were afforded only 253 seconds (about 40 seconds shorter than the old time limit) with which to tell their stories.

For about six years, beginning with the 72-Hour Film Festival's inaugural launch in 2005, I was a competitor in the event, and I can tell you what an undertaking it can be. Just like the 72-Hour, the 253-Second Short Film Festival tasks filmmakers with having three days to write, shoot and edit a short film. In order to avoid any chicanery, the teams are given mandatory criteria that they must include in their end product. After the films are complete, they are screened and judged, and a winner emerges. It's a celebration of local creativity that invariably features some bright spots and - typically - a fair number of duds (see: my movies), which showcase how difficult the challenge is.

"Two people didn't quite get their films in, so that definitely adds to the crunch of that seventy-two hours," says Darcy Nelson, The Grand Cinema's Director of Marketing and Communications. "Our filmmakers had been tweeting about it throughout the weekend, using #253seconds, and kind of offering people a behind-the-scenes look at their process as they work on the conception of their films, as well as the shooting and editing. It's been fun to watch."

It's not uncommon for teams to come into the challenge with the outline of an idea for what their film will be, but the list of criteria required for the shorts can throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings. Require props, lines of dialogue, locations - if they've been shoe-horned in, they'll stick out like sore thumbs. This time around, the winners of Best Film as voted on by judges, as well as Audience Favorite, will both receive a prize of $500, so the teams are working harder than ever, and the planners of the event have given them challenging criteria to work with:

  • Someone must say, "I'm not saying yours isn't good."
  • A children's toy must be featured.
  • Something must be written in a foreign language.

Finally, the requirement that stands out most to me is that time travel must be included, which is the sort of conceptual prompt that can't help but massively shape the content of the resultant films.

Attendees of the viewing party on May 15th have the chance of winning door prizes, including $100 gift certificates to local favorites like Smoke + Cedar, Hilltop Kitchen and Marrow, as well as free tickets to The Grand Cinema. Ultimately, though, the 253-Second Short Film Festival, as well as the 72-Hour before it, is all about showing off what talented people we're surrounded by every day in the South Sound.

URBAN GRACE CHURCH, May 15, 6 p.m., $10 ADV, $15 DOS, 902 Market St., Tacoma, 253.593.4474

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