Austin Film Festival Puts Diversity First

Writer-focused fest plans to amplify more unheard voices

Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, one of the films at Austin Film Festival 2017 that emphasized women in front and behind the camera

From mega-franchises like Star Wars to the smallest indie projects, diversity and representation have become the keywords in contemporary cinema culture. As the Austin Film Festival enters its 25th year, the writer-focused fest has recommitted to its program to bring traditionally overlooked artists center stage.

Increasingly, the focus in the diversity debate has been on gatekeepers, such as festival bookers and programmers. AFF made a commitment to add seats to the table in 2017 through its Diversity Focus Program, giving a platform for women, minorities, and LGBTQ creatives: groups who have often been afforded minimal or token participation at many festivals.

Recommitting to its diversity program, this morning AFF Executive Director Barbara Morgan said this was about “our responsibility of challenging the status quo. In addition to serving up a program steeped with diverse viewpoints and approaches, the Diversity Focus Program also provides a platform for underrepresented artists from all over the world to be heard, to have access, and to add their voices to the fabric of the industry’s future."

The festival hopes that its track record for 2017 will speak for itself. The schedule gave a platform for award-bound filmmakers like Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Helen Whitney (Into the Night: Portraits of Life and Death), Michael del Monte (Transformer), and Virgil Williams (Mudbound) who either represented diversity themselves, or told stories that represented diverse communities. That extended to the discussions and conversations, with 50% female and minority panelists, meaning 80% of all panels featured some degree of diversity.

As for the gatekeepers themselves, 48% of industry judges and 60% of readers for the screenplay competition were female, and 44% of finalist scripts included a credit for a female writer.

There is still a long way to go to reach true equity, but it's commitments like this, and real metrics, that could start leveling the long-tilted playing field.

Austin Film Festival runs Oct. 25-Nov. 1, 2018. For more info, visit

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