In 2001, a small oil and gas company offered me a job. The new position would require relocating from the Dallas area to Austin. The offer was not a great one financially, as it would result in a significant cut in pay, but it would be the kind of legal work I loved to do, while my current position was not. The day after I received the offer, I got in the mail the latest edition of the Texas Bar Journal. The cover looked like this:
I took this as a sign and accepted the offer.
We moved back to the Dallas – Fort Worth area seven years later, but recently I confirmed once again that I belong in Austin – at least for eight days a year at this:
My wife and I just returned from the Austin Film Festival, where we watched 27 movies. Sadly, there were several others we wanted to see but couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts. I admit it; I’m a film junkie.
We had attended parts of the Austin Film Festival while we lived in Austin, but this was the first time we had been back to the Festival after moving back to DFW and the first time we completely immersed ourselves in it. Unlike my usual posts that focus on some character trait or ills of society, this one will focus on what I learned at this year’s Austin Film Festival.
There is nothing like watching a film with movie people. They cry unashamedly, laugh boisterously, and cheer loudly when someone rights a wrong. They applaud at the end of every movie and stay to watch the credits.
Movie people can be some of the nicest people around. We often think of those in the entertainment industry as snobby and pretentious, and I’m sure some of them are. But the ones at the festival were not. They were friendly, humble and appreciative of others’ works. And we met some of the nicest people standing in line waiting for the next film.
Perhaps the best part of the Festival was listening to insiders from each film shown. At the end of each movie, someone (often several people) connected to the film, such as the writer, director, producer or star, held a question and answer session about the film. In these sessions, you learned what inspired the people to make the film, insights about the characters and plot, and even some of the technical aspects of making the film. I would love it if every movie had such a session. Filmgoers would appreciate the movies so much more. These sessions couldn’t be held live at every showing of every movie, but at the end of the credits, the film could conclude with a short Q and A session as part of the film itself. (And then more people would stay for the credits. I am always impressed at how many people it takes to make a movie.)
One of my favorite parts of the Austin Film Festival was watching “shorts.” These are a group of 5 to 10 mini-movies. They are made by filmmakers trying to make a name for themselves. Shorts can be some of the most insightful and thought-provoking films around. If I were a movie distributor, I would show one of these shorts at the beginning of every movie (and in turn, cut down the previews from 20 minutes to 10 minutes). You can generally find these shorts online somewhere, often on YouTube. I have listed a few of my favorite shorts in the endnote below.[i]
The theme of this year’s Festival was “encourage courage.” You can demonstrate courage in many ways. For example, before each film, the screen flashed the following:
- It wasn’t until 1960 that a flushing toilet was shown on screen.
- It wasn’t until 1964 that an interracial couple was shown on screen.
- It wasn’t until 1969 that a naked man was shown on screen.
- It took until 2010 for a female to win the best director Oscar.
- Courage in film takes many forms.
- With courage, impossible becomes I’m possible.
We saw many great films, most of which showed great courage in some way. Here are my three favorites from the “marquee” films (those that will be released soon at a theater near you). See them if you can.
The best movie at the festival was Green Book.[ii] It is based on the true story of a classical pianist, Don Shirley, an African-American, who takes a concert tour through the deep South in the early 1960s. He hires an Italian-American bouncer as his driver. It is funny, insightful and at some points, tragic. It won the Audience Award (the most popular) at the Festival. Here is the trailer from the film:
My next favorite movie was Boy Erased.[iii] It is the true story of a gay young man who goes through conversion therapy to “cure” his gayness. It demonstrates how wrong we got it back in the past (and many still don’t get it) when it comes to LGBTQ and how the love for a family member is more important than a religious belief. Here is the trailer from the movie:
One of the toughest films to watch was Ben is Back.[iv] It is the story of a young man who returns home to his family after rehab for drug addiction. It gave me insight on what drugs addiction does, not just to the abuser, but to his or her parents, siblings, friends, and former associates. And again, as in Boy Erased, it illustrated the importance of love among family members. Here is the trailer from the film:
(Yes, Lucas Hedges stars in both Boy Erased and Ben is Back.)
Film festivals provide a sneak-peak at several movies that will soon be released (like the ones mentioned above), but their major purpose is to help independent filmmakers market their movies to movie distributors. The Austin Film Festival is known as the writers’ festival because it focuses on screenplays. The Festival puts on workshops to help screenwriters improve their craft, a chance to pitch their screenplays to industry insiders, and gives awards to the best-submitted screenplays.
Independent filmmakers submit their films to the Festival for consideration. The Festival then selects a handful from the dozens submitted for showing and awards the best ones. Here are my favorites from the competition films:
- Favorite Narrative Film: Above the Clouds[v] – The story of a young woman who, on her 18th birthday, sets out on a road trip with a homeless man to find her birth father.
- Favorite Documentary: The Interpreters[vi] – A documentary about how the U.S. military hired local Iraqis to be interpreters during the second Gulf War, who were largely abandoned by the U.S. after the war but were marked as traitors by their own country. This film won the Jury Award for the Best Documentary as well as the Courage Award.
- The Most Thought-Provoking Film: Clara[vii] – The story of an astronomer consumed with searching for intelligent life outside planet earth, and his new research assistant, Clara, an artist, who is fascinated with space. The film gets you thinking about God, the limitations of science, and just what life might be like after we die. This movie won the Jury Award for the Best Narrative Film. Amazingly, a twenty-year-old wrote and directed the movie.
Since none of these last three movies have distributors yet, sadly, they may never make it to theaters. But keep your eyes open for them if they do. Hopefully, they will at least make it to Netflix, Amazon Prime, or some other online source, as it will be worth your time to watch them.
the films at the Festival, let’s be courageous. We don’t have to topple
governments or evil corporations or take
on a drug cartel. But each of us can have enough courage to do something to
make this world a little better. Let’s right a wrong, protect the victim of bullying, welcome into our inner circle
someone who is different or who society has
marginalized, forgive someone who has
hurt us, or seek forgiveness from someone
we have wronged. All of those take courage, and through that courage, we really
can turn the impossible into “I’m possible.”
[i] Here are some of my favorite shorts from the Austin Film Festival:
- The Last Letter – A war weary soldier must deliver to his dead friend’s fiancée a farewell letter that was never written.
- Woman in Stall – A woman finds herself trapped in a bathroom stall by a man whose intentions are not entirely clear (winner of the best student narrative short at the Festival).
- Christmas Green – A disgruntled woman pays an unwanted visit to her lonely neighbor, but both end up finding unexpected joy in each other’s company.
- Noise – When a young, deaf woman forms a bond with an unlikely stranger, the two are forced to communicate in the absence of language.
- Everything Mattress – In search of a new mattress, David and Sara receive some unexpected wisdom from a mattress salesperson (winner of the Audience Award for a short).
[ii] Green Book
- Production Companies: Participant Media, DreamWorks, and Amblin Partners
- Director: Pater Farrelly
- Screenwriter: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie
- Starring: Linda Cardellini, Viggo Mortensen, and Mahershala Ali
- Release date: November 21, 2018
[iii] Boy Erased
- Production Companies: Anonymous Content, Blue-Tongued Films, and Focus Features
- Director: Joel Edgerton
- Screenwriter: Joel Edgerton (based on the memoir by Garrard Conley)
- Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe
- Release date: November 4, 2018 (limited release)
[iv] Ben is Back
- Production Companies: Black Bear Pictures, 30West, and Color Force
- Director: Peter Hedges
- Screenwriter: Peter Hedges
- Starring: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, and Courtney B. Vance
- Release date: December 7, 2018
[v] Above the Clouds
- Production Company: Third Light Films
- Director: Leon Chambers
- Screenwriter: Simon Lloyd (based on the story by Leon Chambers)
- Starring: Naomi Murton, Andrew Murton, and Phillip Jackson
- Release date: Unknown
[vi] The Interpreters
- Production Company: Capital K Pictures
- Directors: Andres Caballero and Sophian Khan
- Release date: Unknown
- Production Company: Serendipity Point Films
- Director: Akash Sherman
- Screenwriter: Akash Sherman
- Starring: Patrick J. Adams, Troian Bellisario, and Will Bowes
- Release date: Unknown