Here’s Looking at Film, Kid

Festival offers fresh films for Tacoma by Matt
October 8, 2007, 10:44 pm
Filed under: Film Festivals

The Grand Cinema is a wonderful place. Tucked snugly between cafes and art galleries, this small, non-profit theater is a welcome sight to any cinephile looking to escape the concrete confines of the local multiplexes and experience film that is different, unique, foreign, alien, fresh. Last year, The Grand hosted its first Tacoma Film Festival, featuring a range of movies, short films, documentaries, cartoons and music videos from local and international independent filmmakers. With the success of the first, The Grand hosted a second this past week – and yours truly was, naturally, in attendance and managed to see nine films.

First up was The Man Who Shot Chinatown, a fascinating documentary for anyone who’s ever scratched their head when the Achievement in Cinematography Oscar is handed out. This is a film on legendary cinematographer John A. Alonzo, the man responsible for the beautiful shots in Harold & Maude, Vanishing Point, Chinatown, Norma Rae and Scarface.

The strongest aspect of this film lies in the vantage point at which it views the filmmaking process. Many of those interviewed are not big-name actors or Hollywood executives – they’re gaffers, best boys and grips, the guys behind the camera who knew Alonzo best. Though The Man Who Shot Chinatown is fantastically done, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone not particularly interested in cinematography or filmmaking in general, as the film tends to focus on Alonzo’s unique, groundbreaking style and technical prowess.

Saturday, I was treated to a two-hour stint of short films, many courtesy of Tacoma natives. The series opened with Absolute Zero, a true story about a man who froze to death after being locked in a meat-chiller on a train – only thing is, the freezer was broken and the temperature was at a comfortable 68 degrees. Though the story is very intriguing, the film is less so. Lots of fade outs, slow-motion shots and seemingly endless dialogue between the investigators dragged this picture into monotonous territory, and I was bored ten minutes in.

Following Absolute Zero came The Fan and the Flower, a sweet, animated tale of love narrated by Paul Giamatti. The film chronicles the budding attraction and eventual romance between a ceiling fan and the potted flower below it. Though a bit odd, I couldn’t help but smile through this movie’s entirety.

After the strange, headache inducing cartoon Lost Utopia, I was submitted to the strange, headache inducing short film An Allegory About Socks. Though promising in its first few moments, the film quickly descends into confusion, ending on a maddeningly unclear shot of a woman standing on the beach holding a dog. An Allegory About Socks is the kind of artsy, nonsensical drivel you tend to find making the festival circuit, all style without a lick of substance.

Next came my personal favorite film of the festival, Spitfire 944. This short documentary, featured at Sundance this year, is essentially an interview with an 83-year old World War II pilot who, in 2005, watches 16mm footage of his 1944 Spitefire crash for the first time. The man’s reactions to seeing the footage of himself, over 60 years younger, is priceless.

Finding Thea flickered to life shortly after. This documentary delves into the life of Thea Foss, a woman whom not many people know of, yet whose name can be found all over the Pacific Northwest (including PLU – Foss Field, anyone?). Though interesting, Finding Thea is a little too bland for the festival circuit. In fact, it would probably feel more at home as a PBS history special. Despite the dryness of the piece, I definitely enjoyed the information it provided on a woman very formative to our culture here in the Tacoma area.

Though many of the films I watched were less than stellar, the uniqueness they all offered was well worth admission. Even movies like Absolute Zero and An Allegory About Socks brought something new to the table, despite their amateurish mistakes. I’ll definitely make it back for the third annual Tacoma Film Festival (and maybe even try to save up for a VIP pass).