AUSTIN DAZE: What is the Austin Film Festival and how long has it been around?AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL: This is the 13th year. We are an 8 day festival and have 150 screenings. We have a film competition with several categories: Narrative Short, Narrative Student Short, Documentary Short, Animated short, Narrative Feature and Documentary Feature. We have a screenplay competition which brings several thousand entries every year. From that we have several finalists. We also honor a distinguished writer every year. This year we are honoring Shane Black who wrote Lethal Weapon, Long Kiss Goodnight, Last Boy Scout-he kind of defined those 80s action films. We also honor an outstanding television writer. This year it’s David Milch who did Deadwood and NYPD Blue. He was a writer on Hill Street Blues. We also have a new award which is a an Extraordinary Contribution to Film Award and we are giving that to Sidney Pollack for all he has done not only as a director, but also as a producer and a director and an actor.
AD: How is this festival unique? What distinguishes this festival from other festivals?
AFF: I think primarily the writer standpoint. Most film festivals honor the director. We are a writer’s focus festival and pay tribute to the screenwriter. We are the only festival in the country that gives its film awards to writers. We believe it really starts with the script.
AD: What is the screenwriter’s conference all about?
AFF: The screenwriter’s conference runs concurrent to the film festival. It is four days of roundtables and panels that are open to people that either buy passes or badges. It’s just not aspiring screenwriters who attend. It’s also people who are just interested in the process-who are inspired by that creative voice. I do want to stress that it is not this insider’s field. It really is accessible and open to anyone who is interested, including students because it is very affordable. I think the uniqueness of the screenwriter’s conference is that it was the first in the country and we are still one of the few–definitely one of the best–especially outside of California. We also have several filmmaking panels as well.
AD: Do you have to do one to do the other?
AFF: We have several different badges that we use at the conference but all the badges will get you into all the films. But we also have just a film pass which is only $35 that will get you into all the films. Then there are also individual days that you can buy per film.
AD: What kinds of films are featured?
AFF: This year’s line up is pretty diverse: We have the narrative feature competition and there is a huge shorts program. We are actually in the Academy qualifying shorts program meaning the winning jury are eligible to be listed for the live action short film. We also have an advanced screening program. We play a lot of studio pictures.
AD: How does an indie filmmaker get involved?
AFF: The easiest thing is just to submit their film. We start taking entries at the end of January and go all the way through to the end of July. It’s kind of a long process. The best thing to do is submit a film or attend the conference. If you don’t have a film in it is incredibly easy to meet people and network. This is a huge differentiating factor of this festival because that networking really does happen. Everything is happen in just a few locations whether it’s the Driskill or Stephen F. Austin or one of the theaters, that’s where everyone is going to be that you might want to talk to. That’s pretty unique instead of being spread across a big metro city like LA. It’s easy networking for the timid.
AD: Tell us what can we look forward to this year?
AFF: Panelists. There are some great panelists coming in this year. And what is unique about it is the diversity of the panel. You have someone like Sidney Pollack who made all of these great films like, Out of Africa and Three Days in the Condor and then you also have Mike Black who was on MTV’s The State and was in Red Hot American Summer. It’s like two opposite ends of the spectrum and they are all going to be there together.
Film-wise, I think the line-up is going to be pretty diverse and pretty much anything you want you will be able to see.
AD: Anything else?
AFF: Our line up will be officially announced around October 1 so everything will be locked and on the website then. The web site is www.austinfilmfestival.com.
The overarching theme of the Screenwriter’s Conference is telling your story by any means possible. The theme for a lot of the panels will be overcoming various obstacles for getting your film bought and made into a picture. It’s interesting, a lot of these panelists are from Texas and this is not by any design, a lot of them are UT graduates. I think there will be specific interest for UT students to learn and get involved. The truth is, it seems like in Austin, you can’t throw a stone without hitting an aspiring screenwriter.
AD: Getting into a film at SXSW can be pretty difficult. Is that the same with Film Festival?
AFF: It’s really not. There are some fairly large venues. It’s always easier if you have a pass but it’s really not. I can’t say that people won’t ever get shut out because you never know what is going to be popular, but we always do our best to accommodate. I think you can safely say that it is less of an issue for Austin Film Festival than SXSW. With pretty good certainty, if you have a pass you are going to get in. And at $35 for 150 screenings, you’re not getting a better deal anywhere.