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The Grand Cinema's annual 253 Short Film Competition returns

Photo courtesy of The Grand Cinema

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It's been about eight years since I last competed in The Grand Cinema's annual test of filmmaking wills, and I still will occasionally wake up with cold sweats and delirious flashbacks to faulty editing equipment and quickly encroaching deadlines. Then called the 72-Hour Film Festival, it was renamed the 253 Short Film Competition last year, but the fundamentals of the festival remain largely the same: roughly 30 teams (this year, there are 32) gather on a Thursday to hear the required elements they'll have to incorporate into their short films, which they will then have three days to write, shoot and edit. The only fundamental change implemented in the rebranding is that the time limit of the shorts has been reduced from five minutes to just 253 seconds - or just under four-and-a-half minutes.

Even though I competed five times in the event, every year was the same whirlwind time-crunch, with new challenges every year to keep you back on your heels. There's simply no getting used to the idea of creating something new out of whole cloth in just three days. Naturally, the quality of the films varies quite a bit. In attending the viewing parties following those three days of filmmakers dashing around Tacoma, I've seen baffling experiments, missed opportunities, children's vanity projects, and some truly wild gems that have stuck with me for years. There's no more inspiring grab bag in the South Sound than the 253 Short Film Competition, and this year's should prove to be no different.

In advance of this year's festivities, I spoke with Darcy Nelson, Director of Marketing and Communications for The Grand Cinema. The teams have turned in their work, and all 32 shorts are prepared to be screened Friday, May 6, at Urban Grace. First things first: the requirements for each of the teams. A toothbrush must be included as a prop; a line of dialogue must be "that's all she wrote"; some sort of allergy must be featured; and, lastly, a Tacoma business needs to figure into the short in some way.

"Faith Stevens, our project coordinator, has previewed a few films and expressed pleasant surprise at seeing the diverse ways that people are incorporating mentions and references of a local business, using product placement and dialogue mentions rather than images of storefronts," said Nelson. "Of the one film I've previewed so far, I was surprised to see the toothbrush thrown in with a comical, nonsensical reference rather than in its functional (i.e. teeth-brushing) purpose."

Jury and Audience awards will be given out after all the films have screened - including $500 to each winning team. Best use of one of four criteria will win $100 in gift certificates to local restaurants, as well as four tickets to The Grand Cinema. But, ultimately, the challenge of completing a film in that small window is its own reward.

"It's really rewarding to see our local filmmakers gather together for this challenge," said Nelson. "At this year's competition kick-off, there were a good number of people participating for the first time and also those who have participated the past four years."

See Tacoma's finest filmmakers come out of the woodwork this Friday at the 253 Short Film Party!

URBAN GRACE, Friday, May 6, 6 p.m., Advance Tickets: $12 General Admission; $10 Grand Members, Day of Tickets: $15 General Admission; $13 Members, 902 Market St., Tacoma,

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