Austin’s indie theater reels in community support ahead of reopening

Austin’s indie theater reels in community support ahead of reopening

AFS Cinema
The “AFS Cinema’s Next Picture Show” crowdfunding campaign is underway. Photo by Ellen Bruxvoort

UPDATE: AFS Cinema will re-open Thursday, July 15. Tickets go on sale on the website Friday, June 25 for all July and August film programming. 


Austin’s only repertory art-house theater is nearly ready to raise the curtain on its next picture show — and the nonprofit Austin Film Society is getting creative with its the-show-must-go-on approach, casting local film lovers in a supporting role.

In an effort to reopen its beloved AFS Cinema, one of the few remaining spots in Austin where cinephiles check out indie, foreign, and classic films, AFS has announced it is launching a crowdfunding campaign to ensure the organization can meet its goal of reopening AFS Cinema this summer.

Titled “AFS Cinema’s Next Picture Show,” the campaign launches Thursday, May 6 on the GiveLively crowdfunding platform and runs through June 17. AFS’ goal is to bring in $150,000 in community support.

And Austin-based Still Water Foundation, a private family foundation that supports organizations in Texas and has been a champion of the AFS Cinema since its opening in 2017, will match the first $50,000 donated to the campaign. But AFS reps note donations at every level count and will help the nonprofit reach its goal.

“When we were able to start the AFS Cinema in 2017 after 30 years of showing films around town, it was a dream come true,” says Rebecca Campbell, CEO of AFS. “Our audiences were growing and our cinema had become a very special place in Austin, where people could come together and experience everything great about independent and art-house film. We are ready to welcome back the entire community to take part in the rich and ever-expanding film culture that Austin is known for.”

Funds raised through the campaign will cover the costs involved with hiring and training cinema staff, maintaining and upgrading production equipment, instituting COVID-19 safety measures (including adding HEPA air filters at the theater), and outreach programs and partnerships that support community inclusion and accessibility.

AFS Cinema, which features two screens — one for special film series and one for new releases — and offers year-round programming, is a staple of the Austin entertainment industry. Despite much community support, AFS is still rising out of a pandemic that caused the nonprofit to close the cinema temporarily, providing fans instead with a safer (and quite robust) at-home streaming service.

The cinema did get a significant lift when it partnered with the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, making it one of only a couple dozen theaters in the country to host the 2021 festival in person. But as is likely most nonprofits, particularly those that rely on community support, a return to normalcy isn’t a quick fix.

But AFS, which was founded by lauded Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater in 1985, isn’t all take and no give. For those who donate to the “AFS Cinema’s Next Picture Show” campaign, the organization will provide special perks and thank you gifts in celebration of the reopening of its hub for cinematic culture. Perks include the following:

  • Those who donate $100 or more will receive an AFS membership, which includes annual benefits and an invitation to an exclusive AFS Cinema soft-opening weekend.
  • Those who donate $50 or more will get a special edition Next Picture Show T-shirt.
  • Those who donate $25 or more will receive an AFS Cinema bumper sticker, a popcorn pass, and recognition online and in the cinema’s pre-show for three months.
  • And the first 50 donors at the $299 level will also receive their choice of a Criterion Blu-ray.

Cinema lovers who are feeling particularly generous and want to donate at the $1,500 level or higher can check out the Next Picture Show dedicated website to learn more. And in a very limited-time offer, AFS has announced that donors at the $3,000 level will score a personalized voicemail message from legendary Austin animator and creator of King of the Hill and Bevis and Butt-Head, Mike Judge. That’s definitely worth the investment, even if you don’t sell popcorn and popcorn accessories!