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Northwest artists bring local stories into focus at Tacoma Film Festival

Ahamefule J. Oluo and Annette Toutonghi in a scene from "Thin Skin."
Sean Kirby
Ahamefule J. Oluo and Annette Toutonghi in a scene from "Thin Skin."

The Tacoma Film Festival kicked off in downtown Tacoma Thursday. The festival will show 17 feature films and more than 150 short films by filmmakers from all over the world, including dozens from across the Pacific Northwest.

Writer, critic and director Charles Mudede will show the film Thin Skin, a feature based on works by Seattle-based artist Ahamefule Oluo.

“It’s this great story of an American kid whose father is Nigerian and his mother is white from Kansas, and he's trying to make sense of being split in this way,” said Mudede. “And also having the absence of his father and also having a commitment to music and also laughing about the strangeness of the situation.”

Audiences will recognize parts of South Seattle, Mudede said, as much of the film was shot between the International District and Renton. Mudede often situates his work throughout the region.

“I always want people to see the cinematic potential of the Pacific Northwest,” Mudede said. “I am really hoping that you leave with a greater sense of the possibilities that this part of the world has for filmmaking.”

The festival has other programming and events, including a showcase of music videos. Popular Tacoma musician Will Jordan will show his music video “Back to Me” on the big screen during the festival. Jordan said it’s exciting that his music is allowing him to express himself in a new way.

“It's a dream come true in some ways because this is one thing I hope to do in the future — direct films or at least act in films and be a part of the film world,” Jordan said. “Music videos were like my way of making a movie because I don't have the budget or the means to shoot a full feature film at this point.”

"Back to Me" is a twist on a classic unrequited love song in which Jordan plays an ex-boyfriend who hopes his ex-girlfriend’s new relationship crashes and burns so she’ll come back to him.

But the video is also sprinkled with references to police violence and specifically the local case of Manuel Ellis who was killed by Tacoma police last year. Jordan said he often draws from his own life for inspiration in his music. As a Tacoma native, what happened to Ellis hit close to home.

“The story broke my heart, and there’s so many other stories just like it, and that's the frustrating part — there shouldn't be other stories like it, and it shouldn't even be a story,” Jordan said. “For me, it was like, how can I put the word out and get this name in people's heads without making my own theme song to make it about my own struggle with my own situation?”

The Tacoma Film Festival is happening in-person with COVID-19 safety procedures in place, including requiring proof of vaccination and masking. While the festival still offers virtual options as well, filmmakers like Mudede hope audiences will go through the extra procedures to participate in person.

“This film is supposed to be seen this way,” Mudede said. “We shot the film to be seen, and whoever is in the theater, I'm just going to thank them graciously for giving the film the chance to be seen the way that it was meant to be.”

The festival runs through Oct. 14.

Mayowa Aina covers cost-of-living and affordability issues in Western Washington. She focuses on how people do (or don't) make ends meet, impacts on residents' earning potential and proposed solutions for supporting people living at the margins of our community. Get in touch with her by emailing