AFS Announces 2021 Feature Grant Recipients

Ten projects reflect talent and diversity in Texas film

Austin Film Society has awarded 10 feature projects made by 14 directors an AFS Grant for Feature Films, providing vital funding for films made by Texas artists that have been underrepresented in the industry.

The directors of Untitled Texas Latina Project, (l-r) Jazmin Diaz, Lizette Barrera, Iliana Sosa, Chelsea Hernandez, and Sharon Arteaga, are among the recipients of the North Texas Pioneer Film Grant.

Past grant recipients have shown their films at renowned festivals including Sundance, Cannes, Tribeca, and SXSW, and include such stellar titles as Channing Godfrey Peoples’ Miss Juneteenth, Annie Silverstein’s Bull, and Keith Maitland’s Tower. Filmmakers David Lowery (The Green Knight, Pete’s Dragon) and Kat Candler (13 Reasons Why, Hellion) both received support for their work from the AFS Grant program and are now among the donors to the grant fund.

Five documentaries, four narrative features, and one animated feature have been awarded grants this year, and six of the 10 projects will be the directors’ debut features. Directors hail from towns across the Lone Star State, including Austin, the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, and Houston. Film submissions were pre-screened by a diverse group of industry experts and were juried by an out-of-state panel.

Fulfilling their aim to support industry equity, 86% of recipients are female-identifying and 85% are from a community of color. The New Texas Voices Award is granted to a first-time filmmaker of color, and this year goes to local director Nicole Chi Amén, an MFA film production candidate at UT-Austin and Fulbright Fellow, for documentary Guián.

Special grant program North Texas Pioneer Film Fund is supported by former AFS Grant recipient David Lowery, Ley Line Entertainment, and the Oak Cliff Film Festival, and this year goes to four debuts by underrepresented filmmakers from North Texas. In-kind grants were provided by MPS Camera and Lighting and Stuck On On, and the grant program is also supported by the city of Austin Economic Development Department/Cultural Arts Division and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

AFS CEO Rebecca Campbell said about the program, “The cultural vibrancy of our region depends on artists’ ability to live and make innovative work here. Programs like the AFS Grant provide vital project funds in a landscape that has scarce opportunities for filmmakers to access capital equitably. We are fully committed to ensuring that filmmakers have the necessary support to sustain their careers, right here in Texas.”

Here's the full list of recipients.


What We Leave Behind

Director: Fatima Hye (Houston)
Narrative Feature in Production
An art horror anthology by Fatima Hye.

Director: Renée Zhan (Katy)
Animated Feature in Development
Fei Li is the best violinist the Lost Maples High School orchestra has seen in 50 years. She has a solid friend group, good grades, and a secret white boyfriend. Everything is going great for her until one day, a new girl, Mary Jung, transfers into her high school. Shit.

Director: Iliana Sosa (Austin)
Documentary in Post-production
After filmmaker Iliana Sosa’s grandfather, Julián, is told that he can no longer travel to the U.S. to visit family, he begins building a new house in his rural Mexican hometown that he says will be for the whole family once he’s gone. What We Leave Behind follows Julián in the twilight of his life, as his granddaughter pieces together how their transnational family has built and rebuilt home across decades of separation.

MPS Camera and Lighting Award/Stuck On On Award

Errin Haines of The 19th* News

Director: Chelsea Hernandez (Austin) and Heather Courtney (Venice)
Documentary Feature in Production
In 2020, a fearless group of journalists seek to upend the white male status quo by launching an all-women and nonbinary news start-up. Building a newsroom that reflects the women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ communities they’re writing about, The 19th* News could be a model in these changing times — if they can survive their tumultuous first years.

Stuck On On Award

Director: Andrés Torres (Austin)
Narrative Feature in Post-production
A former teenage actor returning home from the army encounters the vestiges of his family’s rancho, where he’ll have to cope with the guilt of running away after the deportation of his parents and best friend.

New Texas Voices Grant


A cash grant of $10,000 and industry mentorship for a first-time filmmaker of color making a feature-length film.

Director: Nicole Chi Amén (Austin)
Documentary Feature in Post-production
This is an intimate film that follows the journey of a Costa Rican-Chinese granddaughter trying to connect with her deceased grandma, Guián, by searching for the home she abandoned from China when she emigrated to Latin America.

North Texas Pioneer Film Grant


Provided by filmmaker David Lowery, the Oak Cliff Film Festival, and Tim Headington’s Ley Line Entertainment, awarding cash grants to emerging filmmakers from the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, with an emphasis on underrepresented perspectives.

Director: Starling Thomas (Farmers Branch) and Jerod Couch (Dallas)
Documentary Feature in Production
Black Butterflies beams a light on the injustices of the for-profit prison industry, specifically how the criminal justice machine manipulates Black women. A wrongfully incarcerated filmmaker exposes the systematic oppression of an unjust system that rips matriarchs from the cocoon of their family ecosystem, inflicting generational trauma.

Director: Paloma Hernández (Allen)
Narrative Feature in Production
A struggling art student inadvertently takes part in an art forgery scheme and stumbles into a world of corruption that tests her identity, moral boundaries and her true talents.

Director: Kelsey Hodge (Dallas)
Narrative Feature in Production
A drama that follows Jules during the summer after returning home from the lowest point in her life: a failed suicide attempt. Clouded by her denial, Jules navigates a web of lies as she tries to figure out her relationship with her family, her friends, and ultimately her future.

Directors: Jazmin Diaz (Ft. Worth), Lizette Barrera (Arlington), Sharon Arteaga (Austin), Iliana Sosa (Austin), and Chelsea Hernandez (Austin)
Narrative Feature in Development
A narrative feature film exploring Latina/x identity in Texas through the lens of five Latina directors living and working in the Lone Star State. The film follows five Mexican American women across various cities in Texas as they attempt to forge connections in familiar spaces while their identities are challenged.

Editor's note: Since publication, this story has been edited to correct the spelling of director Lizette Barrera's name and to clarify that The Untitled Texas Latina Project is a narrative feature and What We Leave Behind is a documentary.

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More Austin Film Society Grants
Austin Film Society Announces 2017 Film Grants
Austin Film Society Announces 2017 Film Grants
$143,000 in cash and support awarded to 34 filmmakers

Kimberley Jones, Aug. 28, 2017

Austin Film Society Announces 2016 Grants
AFS Announces 2016 Grants
Program gives much-needed funds to Texas filmmakers

Josh Kupecki, Aug. 29, 2016

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