It is not just that famous filmmakers work and live in Austin, it is that we are talking about artists of personal vision, deep integrity, and a community that produces works of quality regardless of celebrity. This town boasts four film festivals and the Austin Film Society, a unique film organization both showing films and supporting filmmakers. There are also numerous other film related organizations and groups, not to mention the UT RTF department. One of Austin's best assets is its intelligent, enthusiastic film audience; this is a community that supports film.
The Austin Heart of Film Screenwriters Conference and Austin Film Festival begins tonight (Thursday) and offers terrific conference opportunities and an expanded Film Festival (now nine days; it began Wednesday night with a free screening of the 3-D It Came From Outer Space.) In its four years, AHFF has established itself as the preeminent screenwriting symposium in the country. In addition to the always stellar list of screenwriters AHFF attracts, this year they've brought to town two of the most brilliant and provocative of contemporary filmmakers, Oliver Stone and Dennis Hopper. (Count me as one of those who likes Hopper's much-trashed film, The Last Movie.)
This year, AHFF offers not just interesting new films but some outstanding repertory moments. Having Oliver Stone introduce Midnight Express, Bud Shrake and Dennis Hopper introduce Kid Blue, Dennis Hopper introduce Easy Rider, or to attend a question-and-answer session with Buck Henry after The Graduate is a wonderful way to experience these movies. (See Russell Smith's story on the conference and festival on p.??). Austin's film season has come to be defined by AHFF in the fall and SXSW Film in the spring. (In the interests of disclosure, I am on the SXSW board of directors as well as the boards of the Austin Film Society and CinemaTexas, though I had nothing whatsoever to do with their recently concluded and very successful event).
The Texas Documentary Tour series continues next Wednesday with famed local documentary producer Hector Galán (The Hunt for Pancho Villa, the five-part Chicano! series). This monthly series, which began last month with Paul Stekler, hosts different documentary filmmakers introducing their work. Galán will introduce one of his favorite films, Shakedown in Santa Fe, about life in a New Mexico prison. (Galán is interviewed by Marc Savlov on p.?) The show -- Wednesday, October 8, 6pm at the Alamo Drafthouse -- is co-sponsored by the Austin Film Society, the UT RTF Department, SXSW Film, and the Chronicle.
Saturday, October 4, 1-3pm, the Austin Film Society is hosting "The Art of Producing," a panel with Lynda Obst (see Marjorie Baumgarten's interview with Obst on p.?), Elizabeth Avellán (From Dusk Till Dawn), Paul Stekler (Vote For Me: Politicsin America), Dwight Adair, and Richard Lewis at Border Books (10255 Research), co-sponsored by the Chronicle. Ironically, across the highway at the same time, Oliver Stone will be signing copies of his new novel A Child's Night Dream at Barnes & Noble, from 1-2pm only. (And that is the only book he will be signing.)
All this is just what is going to happen over the next week. Last week, CinemaTexas presented a very successful short film festival, just weeks after the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, which was also incredibly successful. Last night (Wednesday) also saw the members-only screening celebrating the video release of Robert Rodriguez's made-for-Showtime movie RoadRacers. The film is a thrill ride through rock & roll films done with extraordinary style. The opening 10 minutes or so are classic, as Rodriguez keeps upping the ante and building the pace.
All this activity reflects well on the Austin film scene and is sure to attract more attention and activity. Crucial to Austin's success as a film center is that it is a multi-generational community. Austin has long had a community of writers noted for their talent and integrity including the established generation of screenwriters -- Bill Witliff, Bill Broyles, Bud Shrake, Gary Cartwright, and Stephen Harrigan among others (even that list is mingling generations). The most famous filmmakers in town -- Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, and Mike Judge -- are almost the establishment now as an incredible new generation of younger filmmakers are coming up, including Don Howard and George Ratliff, among many others.
As usual this list focuses on the directors and writers, leaving out everybody else. One of the things that is remarkable about Austin right now is the thriving community of film professionals here at every level, from location scouts and production managers to cinematographers and grips.
In Austin, established filmmakers tend to help younger filmmakers; look at Linklater's efforts with the Film Society or Peabody Award winner Paul Stekler's presence and efforts in general. Add all this together, including the growing documentary filmmaking community, and you have a scene. Nurtured by media, supported by theatre owners, driven in many ways by the Austin Film Society, and attended by a large, educated audience, the Austin film scene is defined by the high number of creative talents who have made Austin their home.
Now, this week, many of the best writers working in the Hollywood industry will descend on our town for the Austin Heart of Film Screenwriters Conference. They will be here to eat, drink, and teach their skills to yet another generation. AHFF will be a learning experience on all sides and, in the best Austin tradition, one a hell of a party.
Here, at the homestead, though dazzled by all this film activity, we have begun serious work on SXSW Film '98 scheduled for next March. To paraphrase Robert Earl Keen, the work goes on forever but the fun never ends.