The Austin Chronicle

TUFF Enough: Free Streaming Festival Highlights Rising UT Filmmakers

By Shane Pfender, April 5, 2021, 11:00am, Picture in Picture

A post-apocalyptic Lego animation, a high stakes mystery horror film about a ventriloquist, and a documentary portrait of multidisciplinary artist Cary Fagan: all stories by UT students streaming for free via Alamo On Demand as part of this week's 12th Annual Texas Union Film Festival (TUFF).

Running April 5-9, TUFF week will feature nightly virtual meetups where each night, festival attendees can hear filmmakers “talk about the filmmaking process, answer questions, and meet,” explained Andrea Olivares, director of TUFF 2021. Every night of TUFF week at 6PM, there will be filmmaker panels held over Zoom, culminating in the closing night judges panel and awards ceremony. In past years, winners of the festival have received passes to festivals like SXSW and Fantastic fest.

The festival is coordinated by UT Showtime, a committee built by and for the university’s student body. TUFF itself is only a slice of the group's programming which includes advance screenings, television premieres, a podcast, and online discussion, but they started the festival as a platform to get student work viewed by a wide audience and launch filmmakers into the next phase of their career. Festival entrants screen their work to a board of judges made up of members of the Austin film community and notable UT alumni, giving students a critical opportunity to receive both critique and guidance from industry veterans. Olivares said she wants to “help students be able to network [and] showcase their films.”

Even in the best circumstances, the path from film school graduate to industry professional is uncharted. For young filmmakers, Olivares explained, it’s important to be able to say “I was in this festival, or I was a winner of this festival... that's something that they can put on their resume.”

Having the films hosted on Alamo On Demand, the Alamo Drafthouse's streaming platform, provides an opportunity to get the films seen by a larger filmgoing community. Because of Showtime’s partnership with the Alamo team, Olivares said the transition from in-person to virtual festival was a relatively smooth one.

Outside of the unique difficulties of putting on an online festival, Olivares says that TUFF’s “biggest challenge is just outreach… reaching out to a bigger audience.” However, despite the challenges, Olivares says she is moved to celebrate her fellow students, saying, “this organization has really helped me a lot and I just want to be able to provide opportunities for other students to also learn and gain from these kinds of opportunities.”

The 12th Annual Texas Union Film Festival runs April 5-9. All shorts are available for free at More info at

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