The Grand Cinema is turning 20 years old

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

Not every city the size of Tacoma has a center for foreign, experimental and off-beat films.
The Grand Cinema has its dedicated – if not obsessive fans – but not everyone knows much about how it got here and what keeps it going.

You could say it was luck that brought the Grand here – and maybe it was – but it was – and continues to be – lots of hard work to keep it going.
Yes, you see plenty of volunteers (and you can join them) but there is a paid staff (and a board) that are a whole level further along the film-nerd scale than most of us.

So what can we see at the Grand that we can’t see at our local multiplex? Or Netflix?
But is that even the right question?

There’s a place for IMAX and 3D, and there’s something wonderful about staying home for a Netflix binge. But The Grand is its own zone.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I go to The Grand for far more than the movies; I go to The Grand for the history, the future, the community, the knowledge and passion about film – and film production – I know I won’t see anywhere else.
The big chains play what is popular and profitable. The Grand plays what they – and most of the time the rest of us – will either love or learn to love.

At the big chains you can see what is popular now. At The Grand you can see what will be popular when the rest of the world catches up to Tacoma.
I couldn’t count how many films (or film-makers) I saw at The Grand that five (or more) years later, became popular. Some estimates are that 95% of the films shown at The Grand won’t be shown anywhere else in Pierce County if anywhere in the state.

If you want to be inspired about film – or want to get involved in film production – don’t miss the 25 New Faces of Independent Film (a feature of the Tacoma Film Festival).

This is your rare chance to hear – and meet – some of the best new film-makers and encounter their struggles and triumphs as they bring their visions to the screen. And be sure to set aside October 5-12, 2017 for the Tacoma Film Festival. There is something for everyone; shorts, animation, documentaries, children’s films – you can see it all at The Grand.

And the impact of The Grand reaches far beyond the building; in 2016 more than 50 filmmakers converged at the Tacoma Film Festival, led Q&As, panels, and workshops, and visited local schools.

The Grand also has enduring connections with multiple local businesses and nonprofits including FabLab Tacoma, No Code Productions, Wondertek Labs, Alma Mater Tacoma, the City of Tacoma, Spaceworks Tacoma, Write253, Breaker Gallery, Just 2 Guys Creative, Red Scarf Revolution, King’s Books, a new VR development start-up, among many others.

The Grand is also exploring and expanding education partnership opportunities with University of Washington, Tacoma, Bates Technical College, Tacoma Community College, and Tacoma Public Schools, and they have initiated conversations with Metro Parks Tacoma, University of Puget Sound, Pierce College, and Pacific Lutheran University.

Multiplexes screen the big budget films that everyone wants to see, but The Grand specializes in what I call the “not for everybody” category.
The best example of that right now has to be the Weird Elephant series. It is guided by Assistant Executive Director Wade Neal who programs and organizes the weekly “midnight” screenings. The Grand describes it as “Your weekly late-night cinephile infusion. Screenings of cult classics and fresh flicks that are bizarre, spine-chilling, fantastic, avant garde, retro, or just plain mind-blowing.” This program grew on the late night cult/genre tradition.

Weird Elephant began as a monthly event, but starting in March, 2017, Weird Elephant went weekly. It’s been building on the initial success and drawing great crowds and local partners like Destiny City Comics, Ice Cream Social, Dystopian Brewery, and Creepycult Screen Printing. It’s a great example of how The Grand is making it a priority to share every genre of independent film, partner with our community, and expand audiences for yet-to-be-appreciated film genres.

As Katy Evans (Assistant Executive Director, Engagement & Education) put it “In every case we seek out the highest quality films possible, pre-screening films and studying critical reviews, film periodicals, and reception from film festivals. Decisions are made through industry, social relevance, and trend analysis, and emerging talent research. Grand leadership attends Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals, and regional events to scout content and creators, and build relationships with distributors. By intentionally keeping the focus wide, The Grand embraces surprise, nuance, and diversity as programming values.”

If you want to step into local, low budget film production, don’t miss the 253 Short Film Competition. The 253 allows aspiring, amateur, and established area filmmakers the opportunity to create short films that will be celebrated with hundreds of people at a viewing party on Friday May 12, 2017. The films are made April 27-30.

April 18th is The Grand’s 20th birthday (and in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve been a member most of those years). You can see any film for free on that day if you wear a Grand Cinema T-shirt.

You may not remember that for several years (before the opening of the Cinemark Century Theatre at Point Ruston) The Grand was the only multiplex in Tacoma. How cool is that?

3D and IMAX are fun, but only at The Grand will you find a sense of refuge and community. And don’t miss the discussions of some of the more thought-provoking films.

The Grand Cinema is everything I like about Tacoma – it is small, human-scaled, local, a bit eccentric and definitely our own.
If you are not already a member, check them out.
606 South Fawcett Avenue,
Tacoma, WA 98402
(253) 593-4474

Photo by TDI Staff
Photo by TDI Staff

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