The Austin Chronicle

Austin Film Society Announces 2023 AFS Grant for Short Films Recipients

By Richard Whittaker, January 5, 2024, 8:00am, Picture in Picture

Talk about putting your money where your mouth is: The Austin Film Society has announced the 16 projects from 18 filmmakers that will receive financial support through this year's AFS Grant for Short Films program.

The list, which includes 12 first-time awardees, was selected from 145 applications by a panel composed of documentarian Isabel Castro, Tribeca Film Festival programmer Jose Rodriguez, and Lauren Wolkstein, director of South by Southwest 2017 selection The Strange Ones.

Since its formation in 1996 as the Texas Filmmaker Production Fund, the program has given out more than $2.4 million in cash and $340,000 in in-kind goods and services to over 500 filmmakers. The bulk of this has gone to feature titles (the latest round of recipients having been announced in September). Yet the grants for shorts can be just as important, having served as important career boosters for Chronicle cover stars Anna Margaret Hollyman and the Zellner Bros, Katherine Propper (whose debut feature Lost Soulz has been tearing up the festival circuit), musician/filmmaker Ryan Darbonne, prolific music video director Vanessa Pla, and Huay-Bing Law, whose short "June" was picked up by HBO, among many, many more.

And while it's the Austin Film Society administering the grants, they are awarded to filmmakers around the state, with recipients from as far afield as El Paso and the DFW metroplex.

Regarding the selected titles, AFS Senior Director of Programs Erica Deiparine-Sugars said, “The enduring impact of the AFS Grant is that our region continues to be a hub for visionary artists and projects. Our three panelists were absolutely blown away by the quality of the work they saw in the submissions for short films this year, which speaks to the importance of Texas as a creative hub in the international landscape of independent film. We support emerging artists whose work will go on to make a lasting impact on film culture and the film industry at large.”

Here's the full list of winners: congratulations to all.

“As We Leave, It Follows”

D: Jhad Villena (Lewisville, TX)
Narrative short in production
When two second-generation immigrant friends – Jonah, a Filipino-American, and Gabriela, a Mexican-American – return to their hometown of Houston to help their families prepare for an approaching hurricane, they must both reckon with the reasons they left and ask themselves if a shared and survivable future exists for them in Texas.

“Ballad of an Immigrant With Memory”

D: Sergio Muñoz Esquer (Austin, TX)
Narrative short in pre-production
Following the death of his mother, Alberto, a middle-aged immigrant, confronts his biggest regrets as he embarks on a surreal journey through his memories to recover the rosary his mother gave him when he left Mexico 30 years ago.


D: Chinwe Okorie (Austin, TX)
Narrative short in production
In a bustling laundromat, a woman wrestles with grief … and a fitted sheet.


D: Alyssa Taylor Wendt (Austin, TX)
Experimental short in pre-production
”Doppelwelt” is a split-screen experimental 35-minute film which uses re-enactments of past-life regression sessions of the artist to illuminate a type of infinite shared memory using tropes of the Doppelganger, complex identity, and the multiverse.

“Earth to KB”

D: Em Shapiro (Austin, TX)
Documentary short in post-production
A slice-of-life and poem-based portrait of KB Brookins: a Black, queer, and trans, Texas writer manifesting freedom in their present and future.


D: Bita Ghassemi (Round Rock, TX)
Narrative short in pre-production
MPS Camera and Lighting Austin Grant
On the eve of her first day of sixth grade, Ani's tranquil rural Texas life shatters when her long-lost father returns from Iran, unveiling family secrets amidst a night of unsettling discussions, eerie Persian folklore, and a surreal encounter that leaves her questioning reality.

“Flatbread Friends”

D: Sabiha Ahmad Khan (El Paso, TX)
Animated narrative short in distribution
Two friends in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands – one with heritage from Pakistan, the other from Mexico – explore their common flatbread histories by confronting the chimera of the wheat flour tortilla.

“Halfway to Heaven”

D: Emery Jones (Garland, TX)
Narrative short in post-production
The Harrison McClure Endowed Film Fund Award
An idealist looks for self-fulfillment in their lover and undergoes a unique transformation.

“Los Mosquitos”

D: Nicole Chi (Austin, TX)
Narrative short in distribution
Aby, a 15-year-old Honduran teen, and her younger cousin, Nata, who has just arrived in the US, must forge new bonds and redefine their very concept of family together.


D: Hosanna Yemiru (Dallas, TX)
Narrative short in production
Two generations of women reunite to clean up the aftermath of a murder.


D: Megan Trufant Tillman and Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence (McKinney and Austin, TX)
Narrative short in production
Two broken strangers wrestling with identity meet on the subway just after midnight. A poignant journey through the past few hours of their night reveals how they got here and what broke them.

“Plant Moms”

D: Kayla Lane Freeman (Austin, TX)
Narrative short in production
A recent Austin transplant tries to make friends at a plant propagation party before discovering that the people there are even weirder than she imagined.

“Sangre Violenta / Sangre Violeta”

D: Edna Diaz and Arturo R. Jiménez (Austin, TX)
Documentary short in distribution
Why does the Mexican government consider feminist groups a greater threat than the country’s most lethal cartels? A grieving father, an inspiring acid-attack survivor, and a radical feminist group shed light on Mexico’s epidemic of violence against women and challenges the culture that allows these crimes to occur and go unpunished.


D: Lauren Santucci (Austin, TX)
Narrative short in distribution
“Teddy” is a portrait of a male birth worker supporting pregnant people in Houston, Texas. A security guard by day, 27-year-old Timothy Gant, or “Teddy the Doula,” became a birth doula to combat the high rate of adverse birth outcomes among Black women and their infants.

“Under My Command”

D: Travis Lee Ratcliff (Austin, TX)
Documentary short in post-production
“Under My Command” is a surreal investigative documentary uncovering the abuse of forensic hypnosis in Texas that has resulted in decades of wrongful convictions and executions.

“Untitled Yeah Philly Documentary”

D: Cristin Stephens (Austin, TX)
Narrative short in distribution
A group of West Philly teens find momentary respite from the instability of city life on a camping trip to the Pennsylvania wilderness.

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