Legendary Producer Lauren Shuler Donner Heads to Austin Film Festival

Celebration of writers continues in writers strike

Legendary producer Lauren Shuler Donner will be one of this year's award recipients at the Austin Film Festival (Oct. 26-Nov. 2) (Image courtesy of Austin Film Festival)

The Writers Guild of America strike is an effort to make sure that the role of writers in cinema is sufficiently compensated and appreciated – so it's fitting that the Austin Film Festival, the celebration of writers, is continuing with the announcement of three major award recipients.

Leading the list is the producer arguably as responsible for the superhero boom as anyone: Lauren Shuler Donner, who will receive the Polly Platt Award for Producing. The producer of the X-Men franchise, from the original X-Men through to 2020's The New Mutants, she was already a Hollywood powerhouse before the spandex boom. It was Donner that convinced former National Lampoon writer John Hughes to jump into original feature scripts with Mr. Mom, and she continued to shape ’80s and ’90s cinema with the Free Willy series, and the Brat Pack double-whammy of Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo's Fire. Aside from her film production work, she's also Vice President for the Producers' Guild of America, and sits on the boards for both the Motion Picture and TV Fund (MPTF) and Lupus LA.

Donner will join 2022 awardee Dede Gardner (Moonlight, Blonde) as a recipient of the Polly Platt Award: Named after the producer of Say Anything and Broadcast News, it’s given to producers with a keen sense of story and who have a history of fostering new talent.

Aside from attending the award ceremony, Donner will attend a special conversation looking back at her work, as well as hosting a special retrospective screening.

AFF is first and foremost a writer’s festival, and so screenwriter James V. Hart will receive the Heart of Film Award for his contributions to film, television, and the screenwriting community at large. Responsible for the scripts for two of the most radical but loyal horror adaptations – Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Francis Ford Copppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula – his résumé also includes sci-fi adaptation Contact, Hook, Tuck Everlasting, Sahara, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life. A festival veteran (having launched his writer’s tool, storymapping guide TheHartChart, at AFF 2015), he’ll also host an “On Writing” panel.

And rounding out today’s announcement is the addition of So Young Shelly Yo, writer/director of the Tribeca award-winning Smoking Tigers, who will receive the 2023 New Voice Award. Another AFF veteran, for her shorts “Moonwalk with Me” (2018) and “Soft Sounds of Peeling Fruit” (2021), Yo will not only give her feature its regional premiere at AFF but also speak at the writers conference.

And, yes, that means the writers conference (Oct. 26-29) will continue alongside the main film festival (Oct. 26-Nov. 2), with over 150 panels planned. However, unless the WGA strike is resolved by that point, it may feel very different to prior years.

Yellowjackets creators Ashley Lyle, Bart Nickerson, and Jonathan Lisco record an episode of the ongoing On Writing series with a look at their thriller hit. AFF will also host A Conversation with Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective). Other confirmed panelists for this year’s Festival include Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip), Gavin O’Connor (Miracle, The Way Back), Dan Erickson (Severance), Oscar-nominated Austinite Pamela Ribon (Ralph Breaks the Internet, Nimona), Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), and Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation).

However, during the strike writers will not be talking about any struck projects, past or present, as that would be classified as promotion. Expect conversations to take a much broader and less title-specific turn this year.

Austin Film Festival runs Oct. 26-Nov. 2. Passes and further info at austinfilmfestival.com.

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Austin Film Festival, Lauren Shuler Donner, So Young Shelly Yo, James V. Hart

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