Photo courtesy of the Austin Film Festival

Austin's long-standing signature film festival has revealed the first titles among its 2023 film slate, with more to come in late September.

The Austin Film Festival has spent the last three decades solidifying its place within the city's film culture through screenings and the Writers Conference, which features discussions with panels of noteworthy screenwriters, directors, and actors. The festival is one of the premiere events for the filmmaking and screenwriting community to gather and share experiences with up-and-coming storytellers.

Because of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike, festivals like this have to make some changes to their operations. The festival did not detail these, but it did declare support for the strike.

"We were the first organization of its kind to focus on the writer’s contribution to film and television, and we pursued this focus with the intention of creating not only a community for writers to engage with one another, but to build a bridge from craft to career," the festival's website says. "We have been lucky enough to build a family of storytellers from multiple mediums, who come together in both a pursuit and celebration of story."

The festival will take place from October 26 to November 2. The first wave of films that will be screened this year include highly-anticipated releases, eight world premieres, and more. Among the talented films is Cord Jefferson's directorial debut American Fiction, a dramatic comedy that challenges American culture's obsession with stereotypes.

Another highly-anticipated screening is a sophomore filmfrom Academy Award-winning filmmaker Emerald Fennell. Saltburn brings viewers a tale of privilege and desire starring Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, and Rosamund Pike.

These are the first 14 films that will be screened at the 2023 Austin Film Festival. Synopses from the release have been edited for brevity.

American Fiction (USA)
Writer/Director: Cord Jefferson
Cast: Jeffery Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, John Ortiz, Erika Alexander, Leslie Uggams, Adam Brody, with Issa Rae and Sterling K. Brown
Monk is a novelist who’s fed up with the establishment profiting from stereotypical “Black” entertainment, and uses a pseudonym to write a book that propels him to the heart of hypocrisy and the madness he claims to disdain.

Saltburn (US/UK)
Writer/Director: Emerald Fennell
Cast: Barry Keoghan Jacob Elordi Rosamund Pike Richard E. Grant Alison Oliver Archie Madekwe
Oxford University student Oliver Quick gets drawn into the world of the charming and aristocratic Felix Catton, who invites him to his eccentric family’s sprawling estate for an unforgettable summer.

Finestkind (USA)
Writer/Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Foster, Jenna Ortega, Toby Wallace
Two differently-raised brothers are reunited as adults over a fateful summer where desperate circumstances force them to strike a deal with a violent Boston crime gang.

Not an Artist (USA) – World Premiere
Writers: Alexi Pappas, Jeremy Teicher, Matt Walsh; Directors: Alexi Pappas, Jeremy Teicher
Cast: Ciara Bravo, Cleopatra Coleman, Haley Joel Osment, Alexi Pappas, Matt Walsh & RZA
In an exclusive artist-in-residency program overseen by an enigmatic patron, artists in turmoil face a make-or-break ultimatum: unlock their full creative potential or abandon art forever.

The Trap (UK) – World Premiere
Writer/Director: Lena Headey
Cast: Michelle Fairley, James Nelson Joyce
Content in her life of solitude, Michelles’ simple world is interrupted by a stranger seeking to belong.

Grapefruit (USA) – World Premiere
Writer/Director: Chase Joliet
After a devastating divorce, Travis is forced to move back into his childhood home with his eccentric, newly sober mother.

Autumn (Portugal) – World Premiere
Writer/Director: António Sequeira
A bittersweet story about a small-town family adjusting to their new life, and some uncomfortable truths after their son leaves to attend university overseas.

For When You Get Lost (USA) – World Premiere
Writer: Jennifer Sorenson; Director: Michelle Steffes
June Stevenson drags her estranged sisters on a road trip up the Pacific Coast in order to make amends with their difficult father before he dies.

Bolt from the Blue (USA) – World Premiere
Writer/Director: Jack Martin
An overlooked engineer is sent to Alaska to investigate an eccentric scientist's claim that capturing lightning could be the next monumental source of renewable energy.

Soweto Blaze (South Africa) – World Premiere
Writer/Director: Brad Katzen
A small-time pot dealer's dreams go up in smoke when his clueless friends sweep him up in a wacky kidnapping caper, and their hostage flips the script on them with her own plans.

I’ll Be There (USA) – World Premiere
Writer: Cindy McCreery; Director: Andrew Shea
A large, blended family is thrown together unexpectedly against the surreal and nostalgic backdrop of their childhood hero's death.

The Battle (Brazil) – North American Premiere
Writer/Director: Vera Egito
During the Brazilian dictatorship in 1968, students and professors of the Left Student Movement face attacks by the Communist Hunting Command in a pivotal night known as The Battle of the Students.

The Philadelphia Eleven (USA)
Director: Margo Guernsey
In 1974, a group of women and their supporters organize their ordination as Episcopal priests in an act of civil disobedience and challenge the very essence of patriarchy within Christendom.

Egghead & Twinkie (USA)
Writer/Director: Sarah Holland
After coming out to her parents, an Asian American teenage girl takes off on a road trip to meet her online crush with the help of her nerdy best friend.

Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment

Dustin Hoffman and Sissy Spacek take spotlight at Austin Film Festival with world premiere

Firsts After 29 Years

Here in Festival Land we don’t have too many events that are so firm in the zeitgeist they can be called something as straightforward as, say, the Austin Film Festival. The event is nearing three decades since its start in 1994, and is the city's default film event outside of South by Southwest.

The 29th annual event spans eight nights (October 21-28) with Q&A sessions, competitions, and world premieres. One world premiere, for Sam & Kate on October 28, is a bundle of firsts. Oscar-winning actors Dustin Hoffman and Sissy Spacek join their respective children, Jake Hoffman and Schuyler Fisk, for the first time as co-stars. The story follows two romantic couples of two generations, with each parent-child relationship intact in the film through fictional characters.

Sam & Kate is also the directorial debut for actor and surrealist painter Darren Le Gallo, who is no stranger to familial relationships in the film industry through his marriage to Amy Adams, who executive produced the film. Roger O’Donnell of The Cure is hopping on the list of debuts, with his first original film score, assuming it is the one he teased without naming the project in August. Vertical Entertainment will release the film on November 11.

The festival plans “33 World, North American, US, and Texas Premieres,” including titles like Daniel’s Gotta Die (starring Bob Saget in his last film), The Wild Man, and Dance Dads. The opening night film The Whale — an A24 film featured alongside The Inspection, by the same studio — tells the story of a gay widower estranged from his teenage daughter, whose binge eating is a focal point of the film.

Brendan Fraser stars, wearing controversial prosthetics to add hundreds of pounds; reviewers seem to agree that the film handled the subject with relative nuance and sensitivity. (Viewers should still keep in mind that A24 is not known for pulling punches.)

The festival also announced the full schedule for its Writers Conference, which builds out a writer’s career track over the festival’s four days with advice on research, editing, funding, collaboration, and creative maintenance. Conference admission comes separately from a festival badge.

Passes (starting at $80) all festival and conference schedules are available at austinfilmfestival.com.

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Google soars to No. 3 in prestigious list of Forbes' best employers in Texas, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. From employers to non-hierarchical art, here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Google soars to No. 3 in prestigious list of Forbes' best employers in Texas. Austin continues to hosts the best of the best employers in Texas, as Google and Apple move into coveted spots on Forbes' list.

2. Country icon Willie Nelson returns to traditional 'hillbilly' inspiration in new album. Nelson's new LP, Bluegrass, is his first album-length tribute to the traditional country genre.

3. Austin art collectives bring work made by 1,000 local hands to Burning Man. 500 Austinites helped dye and tie scraps of fabric in a flowing mosaic that became an unmissable part of the Playa.

4. More closed home sales in Austin show growing homebuyer confidence. The latest data showed the first increase in closed home sales year-over-year since February 2022.

5. Famous Austin furniture store Louis Shanks shutters last remaining locations. The furniture retailer first opened in 1945, and had been operated by the Shanks family for four generations.

Here are all 22 Austin acts to add to your 2023 ACL Fest playlist

homegrown sounds

We're almost there. Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL Fest) is poised to take over Zilker Park across two weekends – October 6-8 and October 13-15 – and while Austinites surely have a running list of all the bigger touring acts that they want to see, they may not be aware of the many great locals on the lineup.

So, here’s a rundown of the 22 Austin-based artists that will be playing during either weekend. Take a look, make some notes, and go show some support! Don't forget to hydrate and get a snack between sets, too!

Asleep At The Wheel (W1)
Kick off weekend one of ACL with a fest tradition: a set from country legends Asleep At TheWheel, who have performed at just about every ACL since the festival’s inception in 2002. They’ll play on Friday, October 6, at 12:55 pm on the Honda Stage.

Die Spitz (W1)
With a raucous live show and their well-received 2023 EP, Teeth, Die Spitz have been one of the most buzzed-about bands out of Austin this year. You can catch the upstart rockers on Saturday, October 7, at 11:45 am on the Tito’s Stage.

Arya (W1)
Pop and R&B fans will find a lot to like when it comes to Arya, an up-and-coming songstress who now calls Austin home after having grown up in Serbia. Her set will take place on Saturday, October 7, at 11:45 am on the T-Mobile Stage.

Shooks (W1)
Fronted by Marlon Sexton (the son of guitarist Charlie Sexton), Shooks will be taking the stage at ACL for the second time since 2021. The band’s versatile indie rock sound can be experienced on Saturday, October 7, at 12:45 pm on the Tito’s Stage.

Calder Allen (W1&2)
Since last year’s release of his debut album, The Game, singer-songwriter Calder Allen has been on a steady ascent through the ranks of local acts. You can see him at both weekends of the fest – for each one he’ll play on Saturday (October 7 & 14) at 2:45 pm on the Tito’s Stage.

Ben Kweller (W1&2)
Celebrated indie rocker Ben Kweller has spent a good bit of the summer on the road with Ed Sheeran, and that will roll into appearances at both weekends of ACL. Look for him on each Saturday (October 7 & 14) at 3 pm on the Miller Lite Stage.

Ellis Bullard (W1)
Get a “true-blue honky tonk” experience via Ellis Bullard, who will be making his ACL debut justas he’s gearing up to release a new album, Honky Tonk Ain’t Noise Pollution!. You can see himon Sunday, October 8, at noon on the Barton Springs Stage.

Wesley Bray And The Disciples of Christ (W1)
Take a break from the noise of ACL and enjoy a spiritual moment with Stubb’s Gospel Brunch regulars Wesley Bray And The Disciples of Christ. They can be experienced on – of course – Sunday, October 8, at noon on the Tito’s stage.

Jane Leo (W1)
Centered around Jane Ellen Bryant and Daniel Leopold (of Leopold And His Fiction), Jane Leo are responsible for some of the catchiest alt-pop tunes you’ll find in Austin these days. Their ACL set is on Sunday, October 8, at 1 pm, on the Tito’s Stage.

Grace Sorensen (W1)
R&B/neo-soul artist Grace Sorenson has previously been a part of ACL as support for other acts, but she’ll make her full debut at the festival during Weekend One. Her performance will happen on Sunday, October 8, at 1:30 pm on the BMI Stage.

Jimmie Vaughan (W2)
Weekend two of ACL will get underway with a performance from guitar afficionado Jimmie Vaughn. Don’t miss his blues-filled performance on Friday, October 13, at 12:55 pm on the Honda Stage.

Font (W2)
Just after wrapping a supporting run with the popular Japanese band CHAI, Font will play their first ever ACL Fest. The post-punk act puts on a dynamic show and shouldn’t be missed on Friday, October 13, at 12:55 pm on the American Express Stage.

Huston-Tillotson University Jazz Collective (W2)
If the Huston-Tillotson University Jazz Collective isn’t on your radar, they should be, as they will be putting out some of the smoothest sounds you’ll find at the fest this year. Catch the urban contemporary jazz ensemble’s set on Friday, October 13, at 1:15 pm on the Tito’s Stage.

We Don’t Ride Llamas (W2)
From a love of the game Rock Band as kids to playing ACL, it’s been a heck of a ride so far for the four siblings behind We Don’t Ride Llamas. If you like bands that offer a little bit of everything sound-wise, then don’t miss their set on Friday, October 13, at 1:40 pm on the Miller Lite Stage.

Nemegata (W2)
Nemegata will be heading into ACL hot on the heels of their sophomore album, Voces, which the band describes as a “transcendent Afro-Indigenous Colombian odyssey.” You can see them on Saturday, October 14, at noon on the Barton Springs Stage.

Rattlesnake Milk (W2)
Country, punk, rock — Rattlesnake Milk is every bit of that and very much worthy of a slot on your “bands to see” list. Their set will go down on Saturday, October 14, at 1:15 pm on the BMI Stage.

Blakchyl (W2)
Just a week before she takes the stage at ACL, hip hop vet Blakchyl will release an anticipated album titled Better Than I Imagined. Hear tracks from it and more on Saturday, October 14, at11:45 am on the Tito’s Stage.

The Moriah Sisters (W2)
If you miss out on Wesley Bray And The Disciples of Christ during weekend one of ACL, you can still get your gospel fix in the next go-round with The Moriah Sisters. Their performance will take place on Sunday, October 15, at noon on the Tito’s Stage.

Kathryn Legendre (W2)
With “Cigarettes,” her brand new single in tow, “singer-songwriter, honky-tonker, and Hill Country gem” Kathryn Legendre will make her ACL debut. You can see her sure-to-be-charming set on Sunday, October 15, at noon on the Baron Springs Stage.

After years in Torino Black, Sisi has begun rolling out solo tunes, including a recent one titled “Lyin’ Cheat.” You can check out the singer-songwriter on Sunday, October 15, at 1 pm on the Tito’s Stage.

Quin NFN(W2)
The oft-buzzed-about rapper Quin NFN will swing into ACL Fest more than ready to show why he’s racked up of millions of streams and a dedicated following. Be sure to catch the spectacle on Sunday, October 15, at 2 pm on the Tito’s Stage.

Caramelo Haze (W2)
Beto Martínez & John Speice (Grupo Fantasma), Alex Chavez (Dos Santos), and Victor "El Guámbito" Cruz (Nemegata) are the minds behind the “electro neo-sōl odyssey” known as Carmelo Haze. They’ll be playing on Sunday, October 15, at 2 pm on the Tito’s Stage.

Austin 'Top Chef' winner emerges after controversy to open upscale Mexican restaurant

New Restaurants

Austin and the village of Bacalar in Southeastern Mexico share a similar ethos — that life revolves around the lake. Overlooking Town Lake, the new upscale Mexican restaurant Bacalar brings the tastes of one famous lake to another, with chef Gabe Erales at the helm.

The restaurant has opened at 44 East Ave. #100, after years of preparation and following controversy surrounding the chef's departure from his last role, at Comedor. A walk-up taco window called Tómalo Taquería is planned for the fall.

Food & Drink
Bacalar is all about duality, from the two lakes that inspired and accompany the food to an especially close collaboration between the chef and real estate and design firm Urbanspace on the interiors.

The menu features globally influenced dishes from the Yucatan region, including Castacan Tacos with pork belly; Squash & Chaya Tamal; and a chef's daily steak cut.

The menu balances on the concept of "comida milpera," or food system interdependence between farmers, suppliers, and chefs, according to the restaurant.

Erales explains, "'La milpa' is a twofold, parallel concept — the 'milpa' being essentially a pre-Hispanic farming system, where you planted complementary vegetables and fruit next to each other, and the byproduct of one is the input of another. [It] allowed people throughout Mexico to have a very flourished farming system with not a lot of water or rich soil. But in parallel to that, it was also thought of as a socio-cultural relationship system."

The restaurant hopes to embody that spirit on the menu, which places special emphasis on food and drink pairings. (Surely executive pastry chef Natalie Gazaui also has something up her sleeve, although the desserts were not explained in detail.)

Bar manager Dragan Milivojevic says he designed the cocktail menu to "follow the kitchen," and Erales points out that some hard-to-find flavors from the Yucatán Peninsula go great in drinks — for instance, cooking pastes called "recados." One of Milivojevic's special flavors comes in the form of a house-made Orgeat syrup derived from mamey sapote, a tropical fruit that many say tastes like sweet potato or pumpkin.

One specific restaurant-bar pairing complements fried octopus aguachile with a corn-infused agave spirit martini. In this pairing, the martini stands in for the more common choice of a corn chip. This also creates another outlet for corn use, as Bacalar purchases surplus grains not grown commercially, in order to support the communities keeping those heirloom varieties alive.

Bacalar also plans to offer weekly pairings of different mezcals with dishes from the kitchen. Milivojevic hopes that the bar will one day have the biggest mezcal program in Texas, and will introduce new people to the spirit.

Bacalar's interior design also aims for a careful balance that is neither too rustic nor too modern.

The team at Urbansapce — which manages famous buildings like The Independent, Seaholm Residences, and Brazos Lofts — points out the importance of the ground-floor location for the restaurant, and aligns itself with a longterm push to make downtown a residential destination as well as a business hub.

Urbanspace principal and interior designer for Bacalar, Merrill Alley, who introduced CEO Kevin Burns to Erales for the collaboration, says the team hopes the restaurant will be an amenity for people living in the residential spaces above at 44 East Ave (both the building's name and address).

Bacalar has been a long time coming for the chef-owner. Erales, who won Top Chef in July 2021, saw his celebration cut short by a very public break with Comedor. His official statement from July of 2021 summarized the situation as follows:

"I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to be a part of Top Chef; however, I must continue to acknowledge my mistakes including the termination from my former job. To clarify, unbeknownst to my wife, I had a consensual relationship with a co-worker and later reduced her work hours, which in combination was a poor judgment call and led to my termination after I filmed Top Chef. ... My personal growth will be a perpetual apology in seeking forgiveness."

A statement by chef Philip Speer, who still helms Comdedor, echoes the story with the addition that the termination came from “repeated violations of our policies and for behavior in conflict with our values.”

Erales had announced his plans for Bacalar after departing Comedor, but before his Top Chef win, which brought major attention to past events.

He declined to comment further for CultureMap.

Bacalar is now open 5-10 pm Sunday-Wednesday, 5-11 pm Thursday-Saturday, and weekend brunch is coming soon, according to the website.