The Austin Film Festival and Conference, which turns 20 this year, has become one of the city's most reliably anticipated fall events. With its mix of scriptwriting heavyweights and buzzed-about screenings, the eight-day marathon is nirvana for dedicated film fans and industry insiders alike, and the ever-evolving program continues to have a profound impact on film and television both locally and worldwide.
This year's conference will feature four additional days of panels in conjunction with the film programming. Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise, Something To Talk About, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood — and, of course, co-creator of TV series Nashville) will receive the festival's 2013 Distinguished Screenwriter Award. Writer/director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight) will kick things off when hosts the 11th Annual Film and Food party — the festival’s signature event, which benefits AFF's Young Filmmakers program — on Thursday, October 23, 7 pm, at the Driskill Hotel. The festival runs October 23-30.
""""You never know who's going to be standing next to you in the movie line; often it's somebody who wrote one of your favorite movies, because those people have to stand in line, too." — Austin Film Festival executive director Barbara Morgan
Festival co-founder and executive director Barbara Morgan is more passionate than ever about her labor of love. She recently sat down with CultureMap to talk about the festival’s evolution and drop some inside tips to help everyone from first-time, strictly film-fan attendees to longtime industry vets maximize their cinematic bliss.
CultureMap: What can people expect this year at Austin Film Festival?
Barbara Morgan: An amazing list of panelists, people from across the universe of entertainment: writers, directors, creators of the content everybody is talking about at Netflix, HBO, AMC and other great channels. We have everything covered, from breaking in and making your own indie films to animation to the business side of the industry. There is so much that people can take advantage of, whether they're there as film fans or are trying to dip their toes into the TV and film industry. There will be a lot of parties and a lot of networking opportunities.
CM: What are your festival goals this year?
BM: One of the biggest things we are trying to accomplish this year is to get more recognition of what we do, so we can get more recognition for the writers. We also hope to inspire people with this amazing conference list that Erin Hallagan, our conference director, has put together – to get up and go do it [write and make films], not sit around and wait.
CM: Who are you most excited to see at this year's festival?
BM: I think everybody is excited about Jenji Kohan from Orange Is the New Black and Beau Willimon from House of Cards. I'm also really excited about Vince Gilligan, who is coming. I think everybody watches Breaking Bad. That's probably the most talked-about show we are seeing, and we're honored to be doing a script reading with him.
CM: Are there any films you want to recommend fest-goers put on their must-see lists?
BM: I am really excited about our independent films this year, which I really want encourage people to go see. We also have some incredible films that I have been watching over the past couple of weeks that are going to be up for jury and audience awards, and that's the biggest thing we are hoping people come out and support. Outside of that, I'm also excited to see Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne, screening their new film Nebraska.
CM: What advice can you offer new festival-goers?
BM: I will say people can expect big nights at the Paramount every night of the festival. We're going to have some really incredible films and people here. If you're going to get a film pass, get there early for every screening; you're going to want to make sure you're first in line, especially at the bigger theaters.
But to really experience the whole thing as one should, pace yourself: really think about everything in advance, look at the program guide and website in advance and schedule some movies in there that aren't just the big movies screening at the Paramount.
I hear from people every year that they meet some of the most interesting people standing in line at the movie theater. You never know who's going to be standing next to you in the movie line; often it's somebody who wrote one of your favorite movies, because those people have to stand in line, too.
We are a festival that's not about VIP rooms, and we don't do a lot of escorting. Everybody is on the same level. Because of that, if you are a film fan, you shouldn't just think of this as a place to come if you want to break into the film industry. You should come if you just love movies – and stay for the Q&As afterward, because they are amazing.
CM: What is going to be one experience this year that will be affirming to you as the executive director?
BM: I am really excited to honor Barry Josephson this year. He was here from the beginning, and he really helped us stay on our message and keep our mission. Ed Solomon is coming this year — he came the first year, and I haven't seen him in probably 10 years. Seeing people like that, who are coming back and who are excited and thrilled that we have lasted 20 years, when nobody thought we would or believed there was a market for Austin Film Festival, is amazing. I'm looking forward to partying with some of those people.
Check the Austin Film Festival site to view the full film program list and other festival details.