Austin Film Fest Takes Downtown By Storm


Carlie Morgan

Paramount theater advertising Austin Film Fest’s screening of “The Edge Of Seventeen.”

Carlie Morgan, Reporter

This past weekend, Austin opened its doors to an amazing assortment of filmmakers and screenwriters, both amateur and professional, as the 23rd annual Austin Film Festival and Conference took over the streets of downtown. From screenings of yet-to-be-released movies to Q and A’s with famous filmmakers, the Film Fest has something for every hopeful writer and ecstatic fan. This year the Festival took place from Oct. 13-20 and featured over 180 screenings and 175 panels with successful members of the film industry.

Through the Young Filmmaker’s Program run by AFF, I was able to attend the week long event on a scholarship, meaning my $450 badge (essentially the Golden Ticket to the festival) was completely free. Last month was actually the first I had ever heard about the festival and it presented itself as a glorious, mysterious event that was everything my movie-obsessed, teenaged mind had ever dreamed of. The scholarship was brought to my attention by the one and only Michelle Iskra, Cedar Park’s AP and on-level English IV teacher. Every year a handful of CP students have the honor of skipping school and attending two days of panels and screenings with Iskra and this year I was a part of it.

Our day started at 7 a.m. at the Congress street Starbucks (which has no less than three signs boasting about its status as ‘Austin’s First Starbucks’) and after our short coffee debrief, there was not a single dull moment. We went from panel to panel and did more walking in one day than I’ve done since August. From deconstructing Jane Austen and her numerous movie adaptations with the producer of “Sense and Sensibility” (Lindsay Doran) to talking to former SNL writers to meeting James V. Hart, the writer of “Hook”, our day was a constant stream of fantastic writers and mind-blowing experiences. The festival spanned multiple locations around Austin including the Driskill Hotel, the Intercontinental and numerous churches. Needless to say, I was thankful I wore converse.

At the end of this first tiring, inspiring day, we piled into our respective cars and headed to the Alamo Drafthouse Village for a screening of a collection of short films from around the world. Each short film came with its own original plotline, its own lovable characters, and its own tiny message. By the end of this short 90 minutes, I felt as if I had learned a week’s worth of moral lessons in a single sitting. Trying to process everything I had seen and learned that day was almost overwhelming. And it didn’t end there.

The next day the routine was largely the same; meet at “Austin’s First Starbucks,” fill your day up with movie talk — science fiction to villains — and then suddenly we were faced with our last panel of the weekend. The festival would continue after this for five days but the official journey was about to end. At 4:30 we found ourselves sitting in the Psychology of Storytelling, our last adventure at the film fest; and what an adventure it was. The panel, amidst a criticism of the dark and gritty nature of popular movies, changed my view on the world in one small story.

The speaker, Lindsay Doran, talked about how our world is stuck with the idea that nothing is worth anything unless it can win an award or become a classic or be the next “Game of Thrones.” But it’s not other people’s opinions that matter, it should be your own joy in creating that makes a script or a novel or a play worthwhile. She told us how she had once seen a spider web stretching from one tall tree across a pool to a tall tree on the opposite side. She sat and wondered for awhile how this had happened, until, remembering she was in the 21st century, she pulled out her smartphone to check. What she found was that the spider had not somehow swam across the pool or made a giant leap of faith. The spider had spun the web on one tree, just for the joy of having spun a web, and the wind had come along, picked up the web, and carried it across to the other tree. The spider had no clue this would happen, of course and just continued strengthening its web as it stretched across the pool. Her message was clear; write because you enjoy writing, not because you want to make a smash hit. Everything will work itself out.

An incredible message for sure and an even better end to a festival full of messages which all support her point. But even after this life-changing, mind-altering bit of inspiration, the fest had yet to conclude. Screenings continued throughout the week, everyday, after noon, throughout the downtown area, guaranteeing more excitement to be had. I caught a few during the week including upcoming movies “La La Land” and “The Edge of Seventeen” (which were both incredible). This experience was something I wouldn’t trade for the world and I highly recommend to anyone and everyone. If you have the chance to attend next year’s Austin Film Festival, don’t hesitate.