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Celebrating screenwriters: Barbara Morgan's Austin Film Festival

Celebrating screenwriters: Barbara Morgan's Austin Film Festival

The Austin Film Festival is different. When Barbara Morgan started the festival in 1994 with her friend Marsha Milam, they did so as entrepreneurs. In other words, they loved film and a festival fed their passion.

"We didn’t even know that the industry needed something like this, we were just doing it. But we didn’t know how much there was a hole for it in the market," explains Morgan.

"We got a call from a producer in the area named Fred Miller and Fred said, 'You know the one area about film that is really not fulfilled in the festival area is the screenwriter.' All of these people desperately wanted to share their craft, get together and talk about it."

That first year, seven Academy Award winners attended the festival, and the idea was off and running. Nineteen years later, the Austin Film Festival, which starts on October 18, has become an iconic Austin and industry event.

Yes, you can see terrific films (eight days worth), but it's the conference that brings the industry veterans and wanna-be's to town. From Ron Howard and Johnny Depp and the youngest of young filmmakers attending Summer Film Camp, the Austin Film Festival, a non-profit organization, seeks to inspire and celebrate the screenwriter.

"We are servicing people who are trying to break into the industry — whether that’s as writers or writer-directors or anyone using the language of film," says Morgan.

Truth be told though, Morgan is the first to admit that the Austin Film Festival's success is owed to more than just movies. "Austin is as much of the Austin Film Festival's success as the writers. Austin is a magic city, and I think it’s magic to people who come here for the festival, and that’s what they go back talking about. They talk about the writers and they talk about the festival and they talk about the city of Austin."

Morgan's entrepreneurial roots grew early. Like many, she was influenced heavily by a parent. "My father was an entrepreneur," she remembers. "He had lots of different businesses, he tried lots of things. He wasn’t risk-averse. He said from the time I can remember hearing his voice, he said, ‘Do what you love.’"

Entrepreneurs may be risk-takers she explains, but the job is not without consequences that any business person should understand. "The biggest thing is not really believing that you’re going to do it all, but knowing that you will have to give some things up," she advises. "Either with your business or with your family, and you have to make those choices knowingly."

As the 19th year begins, Morgan is already looking forward to celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Austin Film Festival next year. The non-profit still fuels her passion and remains an iconic piece of the Austin cultural landscape.

Austin Photo Set: News_Barbara Morgan_entrepreneur_Oct 2012_Rodriguez,Morgan,Milam,Stone
An early Austin Film Festival photo. From left: Robert Rodriguez, Barbara Morgan, Marsha Milam, Oliver Stone Courtesy of Austin Film Festival
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Barbara Morgan Photo by Elevated Evolution
Austin Photo: News_Barbara Morgan_entrepreneur_Oct 2012_Paramount theater
Courtesy of Austin Film Festival
Austin Photo: News_Barbara Morgan_entrepreneur_Oct 2012_Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp attending the 2011 Austin Film Festival Courtesy of Austin Film Festival