Austin Film Festival receives $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

AFF

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Austin, TX National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $80 million in grants as part of the NEA’s second major funding announcement for fiscal year 2018.  Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $15,000 to Austin Film Festival for the On Story® Project. The Art Works category is the NEA’s largest funding category and supports projects that focus on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and/or the strengthening of communities through the arts.

“The variety and quality of these projects speaks to the wealth of creativity and diversity in our country,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Through the work of organizations such as Austin Film Festival in Austin, Texas, NEA funding invests in local communities, helping people celebrate the arts wherever they are.” 

Austin Film Festival & Writers Conference (AFF) was the first organization of its kind to champion the writer’s role in film and television, and has remained vigilant in its dedication to storytelling throughout its 25-year history. The organization programs a slate of year-round offerings, including panels, workshops, and film screenings, all rooted in the art and craft of narrative storytelling. Held each October, its annual Festival and Conference is renowned to be the largest screenwriters event in the world, boasting over 200 panels and panelists gathered to discuss their expertise, latest works, and the inner-workings of the industry.

AFF’s annual Festival and Conference is a unique experience, challenging standard panel and film Q&A conventions by delivering intimate, instructional, and inspiring content to its audience. The AFF and On Story teams work year-round to create a program rich with insight. Speakers have hands-on experience and the battle scars to prove it. Panels, workshops, and interviews are tactile, ranging from detailed explorations of a script’s journey from conception to completion, to discussions that feature an entire writers room staff. Each session strives to pull back the curtain on the creative process, offering an inside look at some of the most influential and inspirational projects of our time.

Since its inaugural year in 1993, AFF has recorded and preserved these distinctive events. The vast material captured at the Festival and year-round events is then curated into productions offered for free online and through public radio and television; preserved and archived at The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University; and edited into a multi-book series in partnership with The University of Texas Press. These elements make up the foundation for the On Story brand and content.

An extension of AFF’s programs, mission, and messaging, On Story offers inspiring and instructional curations from the entertainment industry’s leading writers, directors, and creatives. The process of selecting specific episodes and content to feature in On Story is meticulous. At the close of each Festival year, the On Story team conducts a robust review process. These detailed deliberations help inform the content selection for the upcoming On Story season. Along with catering to both trends in the industry and the more timeless storytelling topics, the producers consider diversity of both speakers and mediums represented; the impact of the project’s educational value; and how the human experience is highlighted through the art and craft of storytelling.

On Story’s productions – 20 half-hour television episodes; 32 one-hour-long radio episodes; and 30-50 one-hour-long podcast episodes, all selected from a pool of over 200 recorded sessions from the prior year, as well as the book series, archive, and website – exude the same vibrance as when they’re being recorded, but are more wide and democratic in scope. The productions include industry luminaries such as Mark Frost (Twin Peaks), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad), Issa Rae (Insecure), John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood), Keenen Ivory Wayans (In Living Color), and Alan Yang (Master of None). The Project as a whole has developed organically as a way to expand AFF’s reach, giving unprecedented access to audiences who have the desire to learn more about the art, craft, and business of film, television, and new media. As it does for AFF’s attendees, who often return year after year, On Story has proven to be an integrative resource to a nationwide classroom of students who, in turn, possess the potential to become writers, filmmakers, and media creators themselves. 

“The content captured at the Festival directly reflects its reputation for being an intimate, instructive, and inspirational experience,” said AFF Executive Director, Barbara Morgan. “We couldn’t be more thrilled for this incredible opportunity given by the NEA to help us provide these resources to the general public, free to anyone with an interest in storytelling through film, television and new media.”

For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, visit arts.gov/news.

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ABOUT AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL
Austin Film Festival (AFF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the art, craft and business of writers and filmmakers and recognizing their contributions to film, television and new media. AFF champions the work of aspiring and established writers and filmmakers by providing unique cultural events and services, enhancing public awareness and participation, and encouraging dynamic and long-lasting community partnerships. AFF is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department and the Texas Commission on the Arts. All attendees and events are based on permitting schedules and are subject to change and/or cancellation without notice. Badges and passes are available for purchase online at
 www.austinfilmfestival.com or by phone at 1-800-310-FEST.

Note: Official Press Release was provided to Nicolette Mallow by Sunshine Sachs. 

The Filigree Theatre presented Anna Ziegler’s play “A Delicate Ship” at The Santa Cruz Theater in ATX

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Photo of set from “A Delicate Ship” at The Santa Cruz Theater performed by The Filigree Theatre. Photography: Nicolette Mallow.

The Filigree Theatre premiered Anna Ziegler’s poetic play A Delicate Ship in Austin, Texas on Feb. 15, 2018. A theatrical performance that marked the second production of The Filigree’s inaugural season, their first play was Betrayal by Harold Pinter. A Delicate Ship and Betrayal were both hosted by The Santa Cruz Theater. Champagne and cookies were served after each performance. The cast of A Delicate Ship consisted of David Moxham (Sam), Laura Ray (Sarah) and Nicholaus Weindel (Nate). Directed by Elizabeth V. Newman (Artistic Director) and Produced by Stephanie Moore (Co-Managing Director) the play premiered until closing night on Feb. 25, 2018. 

What is the synopsis of A Delicate Ship and what does this story entail? “It’s Christmas Eve, and Sarah and Sam are celebrating like New Yorkers: flirting over wine and debating the nature of existential suffering. Then there is knock on the door, and Sarah’s childhood friend Nate stands at the threshold. And suddenly suffering becomes a whole lot less sexy. A kaleidoscopic look at one night in New York City that changes the lives of three people forever.” 

Weeks ago that was the exact synopsis I read on the Press Release sent to me by a publicist I’ve worked with many times, and immediately I was intrigued and knew I wanted to attend. Theatrical performances are like taking a mental and emotional journey in time whilst sitting still in the audience. It’s like pulling back the curtain to someone else’s life and being an invisible guest. As beautiful as film and cinema may be and as much as I adore all the arts: theatre arts and theatrical performances hold a beloved place in my heart, like music, because it feels as if I am experiencing a daydream that I can immerse myself into, like diving into an Olympic pool and imagining I am a mermaid out at sea. Like a daydream, theater arts lets me float away in imagination. I can watch the play and forget about my life and my characters for a few hours at a time. Generally I read a play in its entirety before attending a performance to know the exact story, dialogue and characters. But this time I read nothing but the Press Release and did not delve into the minute details. I wanted to walk into A Delicate Ship with an open mind.

Immediately upon entry into the theatre I saw blue windows, blue lights, a brown leather sofa, a guitar, a birdcage, The New York Times newspaper, other trinkets and home decor like books and a modest at-home bar. The stage was set in someone’s NYC apartment and it looked like a cold December night by the wool and flannel jackets hung by the door. The venue space at The Santa Cruz Theatre is very intimate in size and it makes for an evocative, memorable and vivid experience with the audience and the actors on stage so close in proximity the eye contact can feel magnetic. 

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A Delicate Ship was my second experience to see a performance by The Filigree Theatre. The first play was so delightful that I came back for more. This time I attended on the opening night as a member of the Press and I had the pleasure to interview Elizabeth V. Newman: Co-Founder, Artistic Director & Co-Managing Director of The Filigree Theatre and A Delicate Ship. 

Nicolette Mallow: The set on stage was beautiful! I loved the integration of music, spotlights, blue lights and windows… Does the theatre intend to keep expanding light and sound into plays? I feel like Betrayal was a lot more subtle in regards to sound and lighting effects. I adored the colors and sound effects in A Delicate Ship

Elizabeth V. Newman: Thank you! As a director, I really love working with my designers to build each distinct world for every show, which are totally dependent on what the needs of the particular show are; i.e. which elements are in the forefront and which underscore more subtly. Chris Conard is our set and lighting designer (also on the advisory committee of Filigree) and Eliot Fisher is sound. We all collaborated previously on the Austin Premiere (and the the Filigree pre-season Los Angeles Premiere) of Any Night by Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn. The challenge of Any Night was to create a world that was evocative of a ‘fever dream’ so I worked with both designers to create a more wild, impressionistic, surreal/nightmarish. (Eliot was nominated for B Iden Payne for Sound, Chris for Lighting for the pre-LA premiere/Austin premiere of that show)… The next performance (Betrayal) for me was all about restraint and repression and about things simmering underneath a very polished, clean, hard surface. For Betrayal I wanted very straightforward, simple, white, almost clinical lighting. I wanted the production to be all about Pinter’s words and the silences between. The only sound was era specific music (English, 1960’s/70’s) between scenes to evoke the era and emotions bubbling up under the surface.  

Eliot and I discussed sound for A Delicate Ship and talked about how it was, in a way, the inverted universe of Any Night. For Any Night, each distinct location in the play had a sound-scape with amazing interstitials of a car crash and glass breaking – we hear the aftermath, in a dreamy/impressionistic way – of a major accident.  In A Delicate Ship, the sound sneaks up on you. Eliot used some sounds from some of the pre-show music and slowed them down beyond recognition and added other elements into the mix to create the design –  to ‘feel’ the nostalgia inherent in A Delicate Ship – familiar but unrecognizable. In terms of the set and lighting for A Delicate Ship – the environment of that Christmas Eve is intentionally naturalistic: cozy, warm and then, lighting-wise, we are pulled out of this Christmas Eve present moment and thrust into a memory space (blue light) as the characters need to reflect upon Christmas Eve. The goal was to provide a visual analog to the ‘woosh’ feeling that the character, Sarah, describes overcoming her at times.Our next show, Trio, by Sheila Cowley, which will be going up at the end of April, is set in an old garage that is inhabited by magical, child-like  beings so the tone and the ‘world of the play’ will be a universe unto itself and the set, lighting and sound design will come from bringing that kind of a world to life.

Mallow: How does The Filigree Theatre go about choosing their selected plays of performance? I’ve seen two performances now, both very different and delightful. They seem to revolve around love, sex, family, the human psyche and time/memory. And they require very few characters, three to four people at most. Thoughts? 

Newman: Thank you! Our Season structure is “Past (part of the theatre cannon) – Present (playwrights living and working today) – Future (new works/world premieres)” with each season revolving around a theme. For our inaugural season the official theme is: Trios/Triangles – but there are ‘secret’ hidden themes that have emerged for Season 1, namely memory, deception, passion/time. Trio will have six actors on stage: two ‘trios’ – one of characters who are actors trying to rehearse children theatre and one of the ‘trio beings’ who are akin to elves or sprits. Right now we are in the process of setting the season/choosing the theme for Season 2. I personally like to direct smaller casts a bit like chamber music: it is ’chamber theatre’. For me, when there are only two or three or four bodies on stage, each look, gesture, silence is meaningful and powerful. We have Stage One, our staged workshop reading series, to have an opportunity to get to know different writers (playwrights/screenwriters – help them develop their work – build a relationship – grow projects). In terms of selecting a play, I reach out to resources: NY based Playwright Eleanor Burgess, our Literary Advisor; Alex Timbers, our Artistic Advisor; New Play Exchange and of course actors, writers, or artists who have a sensibility that is simpatico with my own and with Filigree’s. 

Mallow: What is the auditions process and how many actors/actresses do you have on board right now?

Newman: We had double auditions for Betrayal and A Delicate Ship last May (because we knew we were going to Los Angeles with Any Night for the summer and had to set auditions before we went) it was a kind of big round robin casting two plays at once.  We saw such great talent – and I’ve subsequently worked with some of the actors who auditioned for us last May in our Stage One readings and other short plays I’ve directed in festivals. We recently had auditions for Trio. In May, we will have our Season Two auditions (why cast only two shows at once when you can cast three, right?) We are intentionally not a actors rep. company – there are some great companies who are doing that already. For us, the season structure/theme is the guide and for us, and our priority is it that casting be based role by role as required by the individual plays and that play selection not be based on what fits our standing acting company. That being said, I love revisiting collaboration with actors and designers as we develop a short-hand and common references and I get to see the wonderful range and talent of the folks I’m working with. 

Mallow: From a lot of reading and studying articles about depression, and losing friends to suicide and looking back on their behavior prior to their death… I could tell Nate’s character was suicidal from the get go. I have written stories about unstable characters and I was wondering… Was it difficult or cathartic for both directors and actors to portray such delicate signs of dark depression? Does repeating such intense words night after night ever become heavy on the heart?

Newman: A Delicate Ship definitely deals with some pretty serious topics. In the work that we did to prepare for the show, the cast and I delved into how the ramp up to, and ultimately the playing out of the tragic event affect not only the character of Nate but also Sarah and Sam. I’m very proud of my cast for giving it their all each run and not shying away from the difficult material. They are pros and have the courage and stamina to go there each and every time. In some ways, I would imagine it is tough for Sarah (Laura Ray) and Sam (David Moxham) as it is for Nate (Nicholaus Weindel) as they have to relive the discovery and the repercussions of what transpires night after night;  Nate is convinced that he is going to get his happy ending right up to the horrible moment that, he feels, it is yanked right out from under him. Up to that moment he is living what is, in his mind, a sort of big climax of a romantic comedy or a Nicholas Sparks story/plot. 

Mallow: Why do you think the characters were playing a battle of the wits and playing passive aggressive mind games, taking intellectual jabs at each other to hurt one another, as opposed to directly getting to the root of the matter right from the get go? Christmas Eve nostalgia? Fear? Pride? Inexperience to deal with uncomfortable situations since they are all fairly young? 

Newman: That is such a good question. I feel like Anna’s characters are so nuanced and complex and well-drawn that they function as fully formed humans who are sometimes making choices or using tactics that they are fully aware of and sometimes going at their goals sideways, and at times without any self-awareness. At times each of the characters are reacting from a primal place: self-preservation, fear, anger, lust, longing. Sometimes they act from their ‘best selves’ and sometimes from their ‘worst’. Our job as an ensemble of actors/director is to pick apart these different moments and tease out how aware each character is of their own actions/words and their effect on each other.

Mallow: Memory is a topic that comes up a lot because we all take walks down memory lane every day… but, why does Sarah’s character often block out good memories: sex with Nate, talking marriage with Sam… generally we block out only the bad but her character seems to disassociate a lot even from joy. Why is that?

Newman: One thing that Laura (playing Sarah) and I discussed quite a bit was the process of mourning and grief and how the loss of Sarah’s father (just weeks before sex with Nate) and not even a year before this Christmas Eve has become intertwined with her experience and history with Nate. We discussed how the sexual encounter may well have meant wildly different things to each of them and that the memory and association with it may have each taken on a different hue with time and distance from it.  We joked that really Nate may be ‘The One’ for Sarah if he weren’t such an ‘emotional vampire’ and how that contradiction and conflict might play out for and within Sarah. Similarly, I feel like Sarah’s time with Sam becomes pierced through with the loss of Nate which overshadows any of the happiness Sam and Sarah had.

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Artwork provided by The Filigree Theatre.

For more information about The Filigree Theatre please visit https://www.filigreetheatre.com. The Santa Cruz Theater is located at 1805 East 7th Street, Austin, TX 78702. 

About The Filigree Theatre: 

“Co-Founded by Elizabeth V. Newman (Artistic Director/Co-Managing Director) and Stephanie Moore (Co-Managing Director), The Filigree Theatre is committed to producing high-level, professional theatre in the city of Austin and to collaborating with local artists working across creative disciplines including fine arts, dance, film and music.

The company’s name, ‘Filigree’, meaning “the complex intertwining of delicate threats of gold and silver,” was derived from the Latin words for thread (filum) and seed (granum), which serves as the basis for the company’s dual mission: to serve both as a ‘thread’ by connecting Austin to theatre communities in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and London, as well as a ‘seed’by incubating, supporting and celebrating emerging theatre makers in Austin.  The Filigree Theatre is likewise dedicated to forging connections with diverse audiences across the region.

Newman and Moore have structured each season of The Filigree Theatre to be comprised of three shows connecting the “Past” (honoring the theatre cannon) “Present” (playwrights living and working today) and “Future” (world-premieres and new works) that are tied together with a common theme that runs throughout.  For The Filigree Theatre’s 2017-18 inaugural season, the theme is “Trios” and the three productions are (Past) Betrayal by Harold Pinter (Sept. 28-Oct. 8); (Present) A Delicate Ship by Anna Ziegler (Austin Premiere; Feb. 15-25); and (Future) Trio by Sheila Cowley (World Premiere; Apr. 26-May 6).”

Greta Gerwig breaks speciality box office records with her Directorial debut ‘Lady Bird’

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Greta Gerwig. Imagery provided by Sunshine Sachs/Photography by Jack Plunkett.

Last month I was commissioned by an editor in Hollywood to interview Greta Gerwig on the red carpet prior to the screening of her film Lady Bird at the Austin Film Festival in Texas on October 26, 2017. The interview was published by The Hollywood Reporter. I loved the film and it was a pleasure to interview Greta Gerwig. She was a smart, kind & articulate artist to interview. Therefore I was not surprised when I read this week that Lady Bird broke box office records. 

“Lady Bird opened to limited audiences its first weekend, showing in four locations (making it a specialty box office release).” According to Jezebel “it blew past typical ticket sales for smaller box office openings of its kind, grossing $375,612 in fourtheaters, with a theater average of $93,903. That makes it the best speciality box office opening of 2017. For context, look at the numbers of comparable first weekend openings this year: Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled earned an average $64,160 per theater in four locations the first weekend and The Big Sick grossed roughly $82,800 per theater it’s opening weekend in five locations. And, as IndieWire points out, since Katheryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty grossed roughly $83,430 per theater in five locations back in 2012, that makes Lady Bird the best ever limited debut for a movie directed by a woman. Since Lady Bird has already exceeded box office expectations, it will be interesting to see how well it does when it opens in more theaters during the next few months. And considering the rave reviews and ticket sales, I wouldn’t be surprised if the film lands several nominations around Oscar time, including Gerwig for best director.” 

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Known to most as an actress, Greta Gerwig has been part of the film industry in a multitude of roles both on-camera and behind the scenes during the last 10 years: acting, writing, producing and directing. Within her recent film Lady Bird, Gerwig showcased her directorial debut as the exclusive writer and director.  When I asked her at the red carpet when she knew she was ready to direct a solo project Gerwig stated“It was a very long process of writing the script but once I finished writing. I felt like it was the moment I had been working toward for 10 years and I’d always wanted to direct. And I thought, this is the moment, this is when you do it. I don’t know that you ever quite feel ready, but I think I felt like, enough is enough. You’ve got enough training. Go for it.” 

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Gerwig’s movie has traveled to festivals all around the world, receiving accolades and high praises along the way. Lady Bird is a comedy about a young girl in Sacramento named Christine. She refers to herself as Lady Bird. It’s also a semi-autobiographical story about Greta Gerwig. The story revolves around Lady Bird’s senior year at a Catholic high school, figuring out how to leave home to pursue her life dreams in NYC because (she thinks) she hates California, only to realize how beautiful it is upon leaving. Lady Bird is a charming, evocative and beautifully stitched together film with hilariously clever dialogue. Gerwig really captures the melancholy, vibrant spirit of youth and the bond between mother and daughter. 

To read more about Lady Bird and to watch the trailers, please visit the official Facebook page of the film at https://www.facebook.com/ladybirdmovie/

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