Austin Film Society Announces Recipients for Feature Film Grants

$110,000 distributed to 15 Texas projects

Shuffle, one of the projects receiving funds from AFS

Finding funding can be a tough hurdle on an indie filmmaker’s path to finishing a project. For the recipients of the Austin Film Society’s 2023 AFS Grant for Feature Films, the leap toward a finished movie just became a little easier.

During this year’s funding cycle, awards totaling $110,000 were distributed to 15 different projects, not including in-kind support goods and services like camera and lighting equipment. AFS expressed their commitment to awarding a diverse group of filmmakers and highlighting work from traditionally underrepresented communities. Among this year’s recipients, 56% are female-identifying or nonbinary, and 56% identify with a community of color. Erica Deiparine-Sugars, AFS director of programs for filmmaker support, said, “We are proud to amplify the stories of so many Texas filmmakers, opening doors for them throughout the national and global film communities.”

The AFS Grant has awarded emerging Texas filmmakers with over $2.4 million since its inception in 1996. It’s proven to be successful in supporting artists in their endeavors – previous recipients of the grant include Kat Candler (Queen Sugar, Hellion, 13 Reasons Why), David Lowery (The Green Knight, Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story), Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas (Skip Day), and Annie Silverstein (Bull).

Members of this year’s grant selection panel included filmmakers Rashaad Ernesto Green (Gun Hill Road) and Andrew Ahn (Fire Island) and Sundance short film programmer Lisa Ogdie. This year’s selected projects are all documentaries or narrative feature films in various phases of production.

Here is the full list of recipients:


Director: Amy Bench (Austin)
Documentary in production – MPS Camera and Lighting Austin Grant
Description: Walker is a verité portrait of Walker Estes – a deaf advocate and father from Baton Rouge, Louisiana – who is driven by his family’s experiences of incarceration and deafness to help others in his community affected by the prison system. Walker is an intimate exploration into parenthood, activism, and personal healing.


Director: Benjamin Flaherty (Austin)
Documentary in post-production – Stuck On On DCP Award
Description: Through the lens of his own recovery, a filmmaker offers an intimate look inside the billion-dollar addiction treatment industry where young people are bought and sold for their insurance policies and ushered into a system designed to keep them sick. What begins as an investigation of a street-level scam explodes to uncover systemic collusion at the highest levels of government.

Sleeping With Your Eyes Wide Open

Director: Cesar Aranda (Denton)
Narrative feature in production – North Texas Pioneer Film Grant
Description: A tired painter is given no choice but to dive head first into the grime of the city and embark on a nightlong, grueling, surrealist journey full of peculiar characters in search of the damned mysterious man that stole not only his locket but also his dignity.

Our Body Electric

Director: Dana Reilly (San Antonio)
Documentary in production – Stuck On On DCP Award
Description: The quest to win the Super Bowl® of muscle contests is the backdrop for stories of three American female bodybuilders seeking to be loved and accepted for who they are while contending with the impossible standards set for women within the sport and by society at large.

3rd Place

Director: Edwin Oliva (Austin)
Narrative feature in post-production
Description: After failing to win an art competition, a disillusioned Latino teams up with an aspiring writer country-boy to create a comic book.

Rooftop Lempicka

Director: Hang Luong Nguyen (Austin)
Narrative feature in development
Description: 2002 Saigon summer, ten-year-old Thi begins to discover her own womanhood after a club waitress rents out her recently deceased Grandmother’s bedroom.

Rusty Lightnin'

Director: Jack Kyser (Austin)
Narrative feature in production
Description: Leonard, a struggling actor, becomes the unofficial spokesman of a local car dealership, which brings him newfound attention and fame – until local ATF agents inform him that the dealership is a front for firearms trafficking and Leonard is forced to become their informant.

Why Am I Like This? Adoption and the Search for the Self

Director: Lauren Paige Sanders (Austin)
Documentary in post-production
Description: Following the death of her brother and mom, a transracial adoptee attempts to regain her sense of identity by exploring her origins and connecting with others like her.

I Need Space

Directors: Lauren Yap, Hannah Varnell and Ivy Chiu (Austin)
Documentary in production
Description: Amidst a record surge of Texas anti-LGBTQ legislation and the demolition of nightlife venues, I Need Space chronicles three queer performance artists in Austin as they create, protect, and reimagine queer futures alongside their chosen families. Glitter and despair collide in this candid love letter to queer resistance everywhere.

Untitled Philippines Project

Director: PJ Raval (Austin)
Documentary in post-production
Description: A new feature documentary by PJ Raval (Call Her Ganda).

The Tushurai

Directors: Robert Hope and Anna Japaridze (Austin)
Documentary in production
Description: As the only road leading to the Caucasus mountain region of Tusheti, Georgia, closes for winter, a few determined, predominantly elderly holdouts and misfits remain. Experiencing time outside the flow of state regulation and consumer exchange, this smattering of people form a tight, interdependent group navigates economic hardship, intergenerational friction, and uncertainty over their community’s future.

A Silent Wave

Director: Sachin Dheeraj Mudigonda (Conroe)
Narrative feature in production – New Texas Voices Grant
Description: Lonely housewife Charulata is a fish out of water in post-Roe Texas until she befriends outspoken Amal, a Muslim-American woman torn between career aspirations and family obligations. Together, the two women form an unlikely but indelible bond that will force them to risk the lives they’ve built for a chance to create a future all their own.


Director: Seckeita Lewis (Fort Worth)
Narrative feature in post-production – North Texas Pioneer Film Grant
Description: When a man with big dreams is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, he forms an unbreakable bond with a widowed fast-food worker to do the impossible: transform his life and pursue his passion for becoming a police officer.

Age of Audio

Director: Shaun Michael Colón (Dallas)
Documentary in post-production – North Texas Pioneer Film Grant
Description: A tale of modern audio storytelling.


Director: Vanessa Uhlig (Austin)
Documentary in development
Description: Twenty years after the end of the Guatemalan Civil War, an Indigenous woman now serves in the presidential administration in charge of an initiative to protect and empower women like her across the country. But being an operator of the state that has historically subjugated the Mayan population poses risky challenges, and the way she deals with those tradeoffs will affect the resources available to women in Guatemala and whether they can provide for their families at home or will have to face the prospect of migration to the U.S.

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