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This Time It’s Personal

Michael Barker endows Ed Lowry Student Film Program at AFS
Marjorie Baumgarten, 11:50am, Tue. Aug. 26
photo by Martin Chait
Ed Lowry
So, students – you’re now discovering, that after buying your textbooks and shelling out for all your other necessities, there’s no cash left over for discretionary spending. That’s where the Austin Film Society’s new initiative – the Ed Lowry Student Film Program – will come in handy.

This new program aims to remove admission costs as a barrier to students who wish to attend Film Society screenings but are strapped for cash. Twenty complimentary Ed Lowry Tickets will be set aside for high school and college students at every regular AFS screening (not including premieres and special events). AFS membership and proof of student status are required to get these Ed Lowry Tickets, either online at www.austinfilm.org/EdLowry or at the box office. With AFS now screening films almost every evening at their relatively new location at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre, there exists no better one-stop shop in this town at which to get an education in film history.

And who is Ed Lowry and why is there a program named after him? Ed was a graduate student in UT’s Department of Radio-Television-Film in the late Seventies, who received his Ph.D. in the early Eighties. He was writing his dissertation while also serving as one of the founding editors of The Austin Chronicle, which began publication in the fall of 1981. Ed served as the Chronicle's first managing editor, as well as our first film editor. For many semesters, he was also the programmer and editor at CinemaTexas, the student-run film exhibition program that screened movies every weeknight in Jester Auditorium on campus. In addition to giving grad students a chance to learn about the business of film programming and exhibition, program notes were written, mimeographed, and disseminated daily. Years' worth of notes can be found online at www.cinematexasnotes.com.

Ed was a friend of mine and was a great teacher to all of us who knew him or had the chance to hang out with him in the CinemaTexas office or watching movies with him at his home. Ed’s knowledge of film and his enthusiasm surpassed that of his fellow students (among whose ranks were many of the Chronicle’s writers from the early years, as well as Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro and editor Louis Black). Ed would vividly act out scenes from movies we had not yet seen, and, to his credit, there are movies which, to this day, I’m not sure if I’ve actually seen or just listened Ed describe them so thoroughly. After receiving his doctorate and helping launch the Chronicle, Ed left Austin for a teaching job at the University of Illinois at Carbondale. In the fall of 1985, Ed’s many friends were elated about his return to Texas after accepting a teaching job at SMU in Dallas. That elation quickly turned to despair when Ed died in October 1985 as an early victim of the AIDS crisis.

A friend in film, I always felt a special bond with Ed because we shared the same birthday – same day and year of birth. Another friend, Michael Barker, who has endowed the Ed Lowry Student Film Program, can date his friendship with Ed back to high school in Dallas, where the two would skip class and go to the movies. Now a co-president of Sony Pictures Classics (the outstanding distribution outfit known for its shrewd handling of scores of modern classics such as Welcome to the Dollhouse, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Before Midnight, and Blue Jasmine), Michael also shares a wedding anniversary in common with Ed’s birthday: October 3. Michael Barker is also an Austin Film Society advisory board member, and in funding the Ed Lowry Student Film Program, he sees it as "a perfect tribute to a man whose life devotion was to the movies and how they give meaning to life."

Barker explains his relationship to Ed as follows: “At the age of 15, Ed Lowry and I discovered cinema. We would cross the Trinity River from south Dallas, playing hooky from school, gaining access to as many free screenings as we could on the campus of SMU. There we discovered Welles and Capra and Stevens and Minnelli, not to mention Bertolucci, Rohmer, and Russ Meyer. Our fates were sealed. Ed became an important film scholar, and due to his influence, I found myself with a career in the film business. The Austin Film Society continues Ed's legacy by providing film culture for every Austinite, and offering free screenings to students."

We think that Ed would be pleased with this memorial, which will allow more young people to participate in the Austin Film Society’s eclectic and enlightening film programming. It’s not by chance that AFS calls one of its long-running, rotating series Essential Cinema. Step right up, students: Get yer Ed Lowry Tickets right here.

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