July 24, 2010 at 4:53am
AN UPDATE FROM THE GRAND >>>
I'll admit I don't spend enough time contemplating life's biggest riddles: the fate of the universe, humankind's ultimate destiny, how my freezer makes ice cubes. So many things around us we accept without deeper inquiry - and as long as that icebox keeps up during the summer, we don't need to.
Take as an example the Tacoma Film Festival. Now in its fifth run, to many it may still seem like this phenomenon just sort of materializes out of the ether every year. Yet behind the curtain of day-to-day operations at The Grand Cinema, a small group quietly devotes months to delivering this city its largest celebration of independent cinema.
So how does one start building an event that spans eight days, features several dozen films, and incorporates multiple venues? According to The Grand's Director of Community Development Rachel Marecle, "The first step is to pick a date." She and staff decide this just weeks after the last festival wraps; this year's runs from October 7 to 14.
Now the real work begins. Submissions arrive at the theater via Withoutabox, the online delivery standard for many festivals. A few films trickled in last December, yet that number ballooned to 350 by the close of last month's final deadline, the largest catch yet.
Even to the most severely jonesing film junkie, a movie pile of this size is an eyesore. For this reason The Grand has called upon several esteemed patrons to assist with watching and grading every entry on a 1-10 scale. The works you see onscreen in October all receive at least an "8" rating. Emily Alm, the theater's director of communications, also hosted viewings for regular volunteers to get greater feedback. And for those films straddling the fence, Executive Director Philip Cowan throws in his input.
The selection process stresses quality over quantity. Fewer movies mean greater showings, which give audiences more chances to see the best of the fest. Personally, I agonize over programs weighed down with literally hundreds of choices; this year's lighter schedule should make planning movie night fun again.
While this phase of the festival carries on for months, The Grand hunts down a "look" for its annual event. Marecle asked the world for poster designs on graphiccompetitions.com, and the world shot back 195 entries in a matter of weeks. The theater lobby looks like a gallery now, its walls bedecked with eye-catching graphics from both here and abroad. I couldn't imagine settling on a single representative style, yet staff will announce their top choice next week.
Marecle and Alm work with various venues around town that will showcase the best of the bunch. Opening Night takes place at Annie Wright's Kemper Theater (a tradition started last year). Tacoma Art Museum, University of Washington-Tacoma, Tacoma School of the Arts, and the Blue Mouse will also lend space to the shindig. And now that The Grand recently installed a fourth screen, expect more festival faves to play right at home.
The theater always accommodates those who enjoy movies, but the Tacoma Film Festival encourages the artists themselves to contribute as well. Alm serves as liaison for visiting filmmakers, and as head programmer she allows time for Q&A sessions between every showing. Meanwhile, Marecle is busy fitting workshops into the schedule - last year's very popular forum, with Seattle's Warren Etheredge as moderator, returns for a second run.
So, what remains on The Grand's to-do list? Plenty, with zero hour less than three months away. Alm has to write the program (and needs a volunteer to assist her - *WINK WINK* Volcano readers), then this rag's fearless publisher, Ron Swarner, will design the layout. And a few more submissions require a look-see.
"I watched 12 films this weekend," Alm laughs, but added, "There's worse things than doing that."
Moviemakers will find out whether their efforts made the cut starting in early August.
Now I finally know what work goes into this big event. As far as tackling the rest of life's mysteries, isn't that why we go to the movies? See you in October.
Off duty rules.
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