Like ships coming in to dock at the city’s urban port, burgeoning moviemakers arrived at Tacoma Film Festival’s 12th annual edition to import their diverse cinematic offerings.

Indeed, amidst its Twin Peaks-esque corner of Northwestern Americana brimming with mom-and-pop coffee, donut, and auto body shops, Tacoma made wide-ranging entries from emerging independents the centerpiece of its small-town film festivities, which ran from October 5-12, 2017.

There were plenty of topical features in the mix, ranging from science docs like Bill Nye: Science Guy to socially conscious non-fiction like the Ferguson, Missouri-set For Ahkeem. A sky-high stack of 15 curated shorts blocks themes included “The Best is Yet to Come,” which focused on senior citizens exploring the new horizons of their later years; “C’est La Morte,” which delved into various depictions of death and the afterlife; and “The World We Live In,” a slate of shorts alternately comical and somber in tone that confronted timely issues like gun violence, racism, sexism, terrorism, immigration, crime, and the post-Trump American political climate.

The fest’s for-and-by-moviemakers vibe was further evidenced by its post-shorts Q&As, where engaged viewers—many of whose films appeared in the same block—flocked en masse to pick one another’s brains and get acquainted at Tacoma’s primary theatrical venue, The Grand Cinema. In the hands of infectiously warm, perpetually stoked Assistant Executive Director Wade Neal, these after-screening talks were especially attentive to directorial intent, and much of the fresh-faced moviemakers on the scene gained friends and colleagues fast at the close of each of their exchanges before heading downtown for late-night drinks and karaoke sessions.

The Grand Cinema in Tacoma, Washington. Photo Courtesy of Tacoma Film Festival

Director/Programmer Laura Nyhuis eschewed homogeneity with this year’s line-up, and many of the top awards reflected the eclecticism of her curatorial sensibility. Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town, the Mackenzie Davis and Haley Joel Osment-starring comedy about a riot grrrl musician who bolts from westside to eastside L.A. to break up the wedding of her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend, was named Best Narrative Feature; the aforementioned For Ahkeem, centered on 17-year-old Daje Shelton as she becomes pregnant during Ferguson’s wave of police brutality, won Best Documentary Feature. The quirky sci-fi dramedy Everything Beautiful Is Far Away took home prizes in the Best Director and Cinematography categories. Though these films, and the rest of the fest’s, were almost invariably disparate in their content, their careful balance between tender character study and broader sociocultural concerns gradually revealed itself to be Tacoma’s unifying programming principle.

Many of TFF 2017’s highlighted moviemakers were non-local. It’s that “indie summit” dimension of the festival that raised the stakes. Relationships, both personal and professional, demanded to be formed. Whether you’re itching to show off the film that’ll draw in your next great creative collaborators, in search of a training ground where you’ll swap ideas at every screening series, or simply seeking high quality features and shorts, TFF’s 2017 run is proof that rising stars would be remiss not to add it to their annual itinerary. MM

Tacoma Film Festival 2017 ran from October 5-12, 2017. For more information, visit their website here.