There’s something special about walking through the red front doors at The Grand Cinema in Tacoma. From the friendly faces that take your tickets, to the intimate theatre and carefully curated film choices, The Grand has brought together a community through the magic of the movies for over 20 years.
Opening in 1995 as The Grand Theatre, the commercial cinema in Tacoma’s historic Merlino Art Center got off to a rocky start after experiencing some unforeseen financial issues. Not long after opening, the theatre closed its doors temporarily, only until a small group of local Tacoma film buffs took it upon themselves to save the cinema. With the help of volunteers and members of the community, The Grand Theater humbly reopened in 1997 as The Grand Cinema; opening back up as a nonprofit organization consisting of just two staff members and a small group of volunteers. Together they took on the debt of the previous theatre, often paying out of pocket to help keep the cinema afloat.
Fast forward two decades later, The Grand Cinema is one of Tacoma’s greatest treasures and is the only non-profit independent art-house cinema south of Seattle, showing foreign, local, and independent films 365 days a year. The Grand’s mission is to enrich lives and bring our South Sound community together through the art of film.
“We’re playing movies you can’t find anywhere else,” Philip Cowan, Executive Director of The Grand Cinema states. “People really like quality films; that is the initial thing that draws people in, but once but once they get here the cinema has such a small intimate feel. It feels special.”
Each film, unique and excellent in its own way, is chosen with the interests of The Grand Cinema’s patrons in mind. While The Grand is known for showing fantastic films, its charm and atmosphere is what keeps the people coming back. Unlike a trip to any commercial movie theatre, The Grand Cinema is reasonably priced. Tickets are affordable and concessions won’t cost you an arm and a leg. And many will confidently tell you that their popcorn is the best around, and that people will stop in just to grab a bag to take home with them. Popcorn ranges from $4 to $7, is popped fresh before show time, and uses real butter for no extra cost.
Visitors can also indulge in a number of other concessions, including classic candy choices and soda fountain favorites, among locally made products like their rotating assortment of ice creams from Ice Cream Social, cookies from Main Street Cookie Company, and a variety of local wines and Tacoma-brewed beers.
The Grand Cinema makes your movie-going experience even sweeter by offering affordable memberships to patrons, which includes a number of different benefits and discounts. Members can enjoy $5 films on Mondays, happy hour on Friday evenings, $2.50 off of regular ticket prices, and get a free small bag of popcorn with every visit. Other discounts, invitations to special events, and perks are also offered throughout the year.
From the moment you walk through the door, you’ll be greeted and assisted by The Grand’s famously friendly volunteers who are the heart of the business. Volunteers range from teenagers to those with white hair nearing there 90s. These are the men and women who happily take your tickets, pop your popcorn, sweep the theatre after each showing, and genuinely love to engage with the patrons of The Grand Cinema.
Whether you choose a film that tugs at your heartstrings, makes you laugh out loud, or takes you on an epic journey to another land, there is something special for everybody at The Grand. But not only does this intimate theatre just show films on screen, they work closely with local and international filmmakers, and the film community as a whole.
This year, The Grand Cinema celebrates their 13th Annual Tacoma Film Festival. Established in 2006, this award-winning festival features a fantastic week of films, special events, lectures, and workshops with guests and creators who are visiting from all over the world. The Tacoma Film Festival is a celebration of independent film, and is proud to not only showcase the work of national and international independent filmmakers, but also highlights many from right here in the Pacific Northwest.
“Since The Grand has come into existence, the filmmaking community around here has started to grow a lot. And a lot of that has been piggy backing off of us trying to connect people,” Philip Cowan says.
Filmmakers and enthusiasts have the chance win big at The Grand Cinema’s upcoming 253 Short Film Competition. Formerly known as the 72 Hour Film Competition, this contest allows new, seasoned, and amateur filmmakers to create a short film that must written, filmed, and edited in just 72 hours. Each film can last no longer than 253 seconds, which is just over four minutes long. All film entries will be shown and judged for multiple awards at the 253 Short Film Party in May of 2019, with the opportunity to win $500 for the Jury Award or $500 for the Audience Choice Award. Registration to participate is limited and those interested in taking part are encouraged to enter as soon as possible.
“It’s hard to describe, really…” moviegoer Christine Safko tells us. “The Grand has a classic, old school vibe that you just can’t get anywhere else. You can’t help but leave feeling happy.”
Twenty years after the theatre’s rocky start, The Grand Cinema continues to empower and bring life to its community through the art of film. Grab a bag of Tacoma’s best popcorn, take your seat, and enjoy the magic of The Grand.
The Grand is located at 606 Fawcett Avenue in Tacoma. For more information, visit The Grand Cinema’s website.