Pro Tips for the Tacoma Film Festival

The Tacoma Film Festival is kicking off this week (October 6-13) and while I’m sure you already know how cool it is, I thought I’d offer a few suggestions based on past years to make your experience that much better. 

Two things to mention before we get going— One, The Grand Cinema gave us some VIP passes as part of a trade deal with this article. We genuinely love the TFF, though, and we’re not just doing it because of that. Two, the TFF is the only film festival I’ve been to so if my advice clashes with your experience at Cannes and Sundance, feel free to call me out in the comments section.

Check out the whole film program here (pre-list bonus tip: I would recommend printing out the whole schedule and just circling the ones you’re going to see. It’s easier to remember and it’s a pain to do on your phone).

  1. Go to the opening night event

“We are kicking off the 17th annual Tacoma Film Festival with a special hometown preview of local filmmakers Isaac Olsen and Justin and Rob Peterson’s new documentary on Tacoma rock’n’roll royalty, The Ventures! The Ventures are the best-selling instrumental group of all time and, more importantly, the most successful rock band to ever hail from our fair city. Their new feature-length film which was created over 14 years with the help of the band’s co-founder, Don Wilson, before he passed away in January.”

  1. Go with someone
    • Good friends are a rare thing and we realize this may be easier said than done but even an OK friend will do here. You may enjoy watching movies alone but it really enhances the experience when you’re able to reflect on the film you just watched, especially when you’re watching multiple films per day. It would also be a great way to start dating someone. You’ll learn a lot about a person based on their taste in movies.
  1. Plan your meals ahead of time
    • This is good life advice in general and probably intuitive for most people reading this but working in time to get dinner in the neighborhood between showings is trickier than it might seem. There are a bunch of good options around the Grand Cinema but I’m partial to Devil’s Reef or Red Star Taco Bar. If you walk down to Pac Ave, just remember that the walk back up is fairly steep. Give yourself some extra time on the way back up so you don’t stumble back into the theater hyperventilating and overheating.
  1. Beware the shorts
    • This might be contentious—no disrespect intended—but if you’re gonna have a “WTF?” moment at the TFF, I’m betting it’ll be during one of the short film sets. I’m not saying you should skip them, I’ve seen some really great short films, particularly the documentaries. I’ve just also seen some reeeeally weird ones too that left me a little unsettled. If you’re into that kind of thing, then go all in.
  1. Check out the local stuff
    • There are some absolutely amazing foreign films that you may not see anywhere else but the stuff made by local filmmakers are really special. Having a “Hey, that’s my corner store!” moment can be really fun and it’s always great to support local creatives.
  1. Don’t try to do it all
    • Unless you recently got fired and you’re taking the next week as a personal TFF staycation, you’re gonna have to let some films go. If you’ve never done a film festival before, I would recommend pacing yourself. Sitting in a theater for four hours a day may sound easy and chill but by the 8th day, it’s going to wear on you and it’ll be a bummer to miss some really good stuff at the end. Keep in mind that some films play multiple times on different days. 
  1. Work in some wild card movies
    • Watching the trailers and getting a solid idea of what you’re signing up for is great for one-off date night movies but part of the whole film festival experience is leaving yourself open to surprise. Every once in a while you’ll find a real gem hidden behind a mediocre description.
  1. Vote objectively
    • As you go into the theater you’ll get a ballot to rate each film on a scale of 1-5. If you try comparing films subjectively within each category, you’re going to have a hard time remembering everything, especially with the short films. In my opinion, it’s better to compare them all to movies you’ve seen in the past so you’re at least holding them all to the same standard.
  1. Go to the Q&As
    • If you’re able to hang out after the films and listen to the directors and/or cast, it’s usually worth it. The TFF has gotten a lot of praise from directors for being one of the best festivals in the whole circuit and that comes through when you hear them talk. Listening to other people’s questions and comments can also add to your understanding of the film and the whole takeaway.
  1. Go to the closing night event
    • This is always a good time. Since we’re still coming out of the Covid years, things may not be exactly like they were in the before times. But it’s still a great opportunity to meet the people who make it all happen, have a drink and some snacks, and wrap up the whole experience.

Bonus tip: Go to the Grand Cinema at some point during the rest of the year

  • A big part of the magic of the TFF is just the theater itself. Watching a movie at The Grand will always give you an experience that a giant motorized recliner megatheater just won’t. The Grand Cinema is a treasure and should be treated as such. Supporting them throughout the year will ensure they’re around for years to come.

*Not a tip but if you get there early enough keep an eye out for our ridiculously unprofessional commercial playing alongside all the other legitimate sponsors.

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