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. 

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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HBO Films presents “All The Way” red carpet event at LBJ Presidential Library

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HBO Films presents “All The Way” at The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library on May 11, 2016 in Austin, Texas. Photography used with permission from Jay Godwin.

On May 21, 2016—HBO Films will feature the grand debut of “All The Way” at 7:00 PM CST. Directed by Jay Roach and Written by Robert Schenkkan, “All The Way” is like an immaculate time machine that takes you back to the 1960’s when former President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) came into The Oval Office after the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy. The film begins with a powerful start: reliving the intense aftermath of a deeply tragic situation in Dallas, Texas. The audience sees and hears the bloody mess and the Lincoln limousine. And we feel the intimate conversation between LBJ and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, while up in the sky on Air Force One. When LBJ gets to office in Washington DC, this is when the story of “All The Way” truly begins. Because the focus of the film is how President Lyndon B. Johnson brought the civil rights moment into legal affect with The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to HBO: “All The Way” offers a riveting behind-the scenes look at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s tumultuous first year in office after the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy. Staking his presidency on what would be an historic unprecedented Civil Rights Act, Johnson finds himself caught between the moral imperative of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the expectations of the southern Democratic Party leaders who brought Johnson to power. As King battles to press Johnson while controlling more radical elements of the Civil Rights Movement, Johnson navigates the bill through Congress, winning a landslide victory against Barry Goldwater, but causing the South to defect from the Democratic Party. Following its critically acclaimed, award-winning Broadway run, “All The Way” comes to HBO on May 21, 2016. Actor, Bryan Cranston (four-time Emmy® winner for “Breaking Bad”) reprises his Tony Award-winning role as LBJ for the HBO Films presentation, which also stars Anthony Mackie as MLK (“The Hurt Locker”) and is Directed by Jay Roach (“Trumbo”; Emmy® winner for HBO’s “Game Change” and “Recount”) from a screenplay by Robert Schenkkan (Pulitzer Prize winner for “The Kentucky Cycle”; two-time Emmy® nominee and Writers Guild Award winner for HBO’s “The Pacific”), who has adapted his Tony Award-winning play of the same name.”

Last week on May 11, 2016 in Austin, Texas—HBO Films and The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library hosted a special event and exclusive screening of the film. The delightful cast and crew of “All The Way” strolled the red carpet for the Press before the screening of the film. After the movie ended, a Q&A session took place. (A video of the Q&A conversation is online.) Local Arts and Entertainment Writer for Examiner, Nicolette Mallow, attended the red carpet event and she interviewed Director Jay Roach and Writer Robert Schenkkan. Both audio recordings of each interview are uploaded onto YouTube.

Director Jay Roach discussed the changes and differences between the making of his many comedy films (ie: “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”) and transcending into more serious, political topics like “All The Way”. During the interview Roach also shared his insights on the importance of voting and what he hopes that viewers, especially younger generations, will retain the most from this story about The Civil Rights Act and how one man from Texas made history by striving to give all people equal rights and that every vote counts. Writer Robert Schenkkan talks about what he would’ve liked to ask former President LBJ if he were still alive. And he talks about the writing process as to how he developed this story and wrote it so beautifully.

Also in attendance to this red carpet event was Luci Baines Johnson, the daughter of Lyndon B. Johnson and former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. There is one scene that made a writer (Nicolette Mallow) in attendance of this film cry and it was one of the only moments in the film we really connect with the daughter. (In fact, there were many scenes that made Mallow laugh and cry, and she was glad she wasn’t wearing eyeliner or mascara, but this one scene hit home.) Nonetheless, in the midst of White House chaos and political war, there is a moment that LBJ watches his daughter Luci passing by and he asks her not to rush off. As they’re talking, he takes a good look at his daughter and says three words: “You’re getting tall”. It’s in that moment we see that time is moving fast, too fast, and that his energy and dedication to politics has sort of taken away some personal time with family, particularly Luci. Any daughter that had a father who worked that hard to provide a better life can understand the bittersweet feeling of being proud and also perhaps wishing there had been more time.

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“All The Way” focuses mostly on LBJ’s struggles and successes as President and the societal and political injustices that were happening in The United States of America. Many problems we are still struggling with today. The movie doesn’t spend too much time in his family life, even if the audience gets to see very intimate dialogue behind closed doors and his ranch in Texas. During the film, we learn (or are reminded) about how LBJ became so passionate about civil rights, beginning his career as a teacher to minority children. The love in former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s heart is undeniable and the film does a perfect job of capturing this innate trait. LBJ’s fiery passion almost seems to come out of the screen and pour into your heart. Every scene in this film evokes something from within. The audience feels the struggle of it all and we are reminded of the horrors that were going on during the 1960’s to African Americans and other minorities. Ultimately, we witness a humanized version of LBJ: his flaws and imperfections, as well as the deep love in his heart and the powerhouse that he was. The power he had to make changes for the highest good of all. “All The Way” should make all Texans even more proud to be a Texan knowing that LBJ (a man from Texas) brought the Civil Rights Act into legal effect because he knew in his heart it was the right thing to do.

“All The Way” will make its grand debut on HBO this weekend on Sat. May 21, 2016 at 7:00 PM CST. For more information about the cast, crew and synopsis: please visit their official website on HBO at www.hbo.com/movies/all-the-way. 

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in May 2016.  

“The stars at night, are big and bright. Deep in the heart of Texas.”