Back to the Screens for the Lake Travis Film Festival
Sophomore celebration of indie film opens the new era of in-person film festivals
The Lake Travis Film Festival was one of the last film fests to be held in person before the pandemic closed theatres. Now, after a year of festivals turning to streaming platforms, it will be one of the first to return to the cinema with live audiences.
Even though it's only a year old, this was one festival that was always going to wait the worst of the pandemic out. "We're brand-new," said festival founder and Executive Director Kat Albert, "so it was never an option for us to do virtual." Moreover, it would be antithetical to the intent of the fest. When the team launched in 2020, they looked at destination events like the Napa Valley Film Festival and the Hamptons International Film Festival. What they wanted was that the experience of seeing films in multiple, often unconventional venues around Lakeway and Bee Caves before special events like a live stunt show – as Albert described it, "a pop-up magical form of cinema" – be as important as the booking.
That really requires the fest to be in-person, so the question became when to hold the 2021 edition. Their original plans to hold the sophomore festival in the same February slot as the 2020 fest soon became clearly unworkable, so the decision was made last September to push back to the summer. With vaccination rates rising, the fest will be able to top a full four-day schedule of screenings, with parties every night "so we connect the local people with these international filmmakers."
The lineup will feature over 100 films, including 16 features divided equally between narratives and documentaries. Unlike many of the festivals around Austin, which are focused on a specific genre or area of the world, Albert said that the booking team was looking for "a spark of something special" in their selections, something she found in one of her personal favorites, Sevgi Hirschhäuser's Turkish family drama Toprak. On the true story side, there'll be a special screening of Mighty Ira, a portrait of former ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser, whose tenure saw the free speech advocacy group expand from a small activist group to a national force. At the same time, it provided legal representation for groups that many saw as antithetical to liberal values, including neo-Nazis – a debate about the limits of free speech that Albert said is still being played out today.
Animation will play a major role in this year's festival because, as Albert noted, it was one of the few fields of filmmaking that could keep going during the lockdown. Saturday night wraps up with a special slate of cartoon and stop-motion shorts curated by animator Emmett Goodman, outdoors at the Central Plaza lawn at the Hill Country Galleria. Before that, attendees will get a chance to ask questions of the team from Austin rotoscoping experts Minnow Mountain (currently hard at work on Richard Linklater's upcoming Apollo 10 1/2), and the next day studio founders Craig Staggs and Steph Swope receive the Make a Splash Award. Where most festival awards go to individuals, Albert said that the Make a Splash goes to collaborative groups, "because filmmaking is a team sport."
It's that collaborative and interpersonal aspect that Albert said she hopes will define LTFF. "We just want people to have an exceptional experience. For filmmakers, we want to treat them like rock stars, and for our local audiences, we want to expose them to independent cinema."
Lake Travis Film Festival runs June 10-13 in Bee Cave and Lakeway. Tickets and passes at laketravisfilmfestival.com.