You don’t have to walk far in downtown Austin during the annual Austin Film Festival, now in its 26th year, to bump into directors, actors and most importantly writers. The festival specializes in writing seminars and brings some of the top writers in Hollywood into town.
As an added plus the opening weekend runs concurrent with the Texas Book Fair, which is a huge convention with the latest authors and books that occurs in multiple tents along a closed-to-traffic portion of Congress Avenue that extends from the State and Paramount Theater up to the Texas State capitol.
One of my favorite memories of the AFF was a night several years ago when I was heading from a festival party back to my car and bumped into writer/director Whit Stillman. As we talked and walked over a period of blocks a random couple stopped us and asked him to take a picture of them with their phone. Little did they know that the director of “Last Days of Disco” was snapping their selfie.
There are literally more film festivals worldwide than there are days in the year. A mere handful of film festivals are given grants by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The AFF has a strong short subject line-up with more than a few screenings of short films. If a short film wins the main award at an accredited film festival it is a lock to get an Academy Award nomination. Look for a short titled “Jane” that follows the typical day of a junkie who attempts to attend the birthday party of her abandoned daughter. “Jane’ is directed by Kat Prescott, known for her role on the cult British television series “Skins.”
With a week of screenings, parties and seminars the Austin Film Festival provides plenty of inspiration for both the novice and established screenwriter.
One notable seminar has Daniel Petrie, Jr. doing an in-depth analysis of his script for “Beverly Hills Cop,” on the festival opening day. Other seminars concentrate on writing techniques and even a couple of table reads of unproduced scripts. Most of the events are located around the Driskill Hotel or the Intercontinental Hotel or the nearby St. David’s Episcopal Church meeting rooms. Screenings are also centrally located at the Paramount Theater, The Hideaway or the State Theater, all located along Congress Avenue. Satellite theaters are accessible by vans that run in harmony and on time, coordinated from the Driskill.
While the AFF will be showing some tony films that will appear before the end of the year in theaters – “A Hidden Life,” “Waves,” “Ford v Ferrari” – there are some indie gems just waiting to be discovered.
Here are some picks to guide the discerning attendee:
- “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain”
Based on an actual incident where an elderly African-American ex-Marine accidentally activated his medical alert system in White Plains, New York. The cops appear at his door and refuse to go away. Less than an hour later Chamberlain had been shot to death by the same cops. The film unwinds in real time. Frankie Faison gives a superlative performance as the doomed victim. The film blends documentary realism with tight suspense filmmaking. This is a must see.
- “The Vice Guide to Bigfoot”
Told from the perspective of video camera crews from the Vice media camp, we follow a lone reporter hot on the trail of an American Sasquatch. The situations are mostly absurd but the payoff involves craft beer brewed in remote locations.
A bold Australian film that take a female perspective of pregnancy, fidelity and perception. Expect to be challenged at how you interpret the variables of male and female relations. The film features female talent (director, cinematographer) above the line and finds poetry in watery images.
- “Wade in the Water”
This film totally exceeded expectations of an indie thriller. Our hero weighs in at over 300-pounds, and seeks vengeance against a child abuser when he accidentally gets the wrong mail. To complicate matters the daughter of his victim bonds with him. This is the definition of cinematic conflict.
- “Pipe Dreams”
This amazing documentary tracks participants in an international pipe organ competition. Musicians from China, Germany, Texas and other places compete for the top prize in a Montreal based contest with the highest monetary reward for its genre. The actual ceremony consists of a pre-arranged musical sonata along with the contestant’s choice, which ranges from John Cage to classical composers. These players don’t just play with their two hands, they also play with two feet on foot boards. The music alone makes this doc a worthy contender.
The Austin Film Festival runs from Thursday, October 24 through Thursday, October 31.