'96 Austin Heart Of Film Festival Wrap-Up
by Michael Jones
The Austin Heart of Film Festival began and ended this past weekend as
several hundred filmmakers of all fields shuffled themselves into the
historic Driskoll Hotel, Paramount Theater, and other screens in Austin,
Texas for three days of movies and talk.
Noting itself as primarily a "Script Conference" the organizers and panelists
set the tone for the days to follow in the first few rounds of seminars:
"You Have the Right to Write: Legal Issues Surrounding Writers' Rights,"
"Sounds of Silence: Writing Without Dialogue," "25 Words or Less: How to
Pitch Your Script," to name a few. This conference is about the
story -- first and foremost, and many of the panelists stressed nothing but
it. When a heated discussion rose from a particular conference concerning
when, where, and how to use camera directions in screenplays, opinions on the
issue quickly formed. One panelist ventured, "I even resent using the words
INTERIOR and EXTERIOR... I don't get paid to make directorial decisions."
However, another countered that the name of the game is keeping the
reader's eyes locked through all the 120 pages. "I'll use whatever I can to
keep them there. I use camera directions all the time because I'm not
writing a novel, I'm writing a film." But more pertinent questions
centered around the universal "how do I get my story to the people that'll
make it?" -- and answers came quick and hard and in multiples: it won't
happen without an agent, or at least a referral, and for most people it
simply won't happen.
This continues the tradition of film conference panels that don't stress the
success stories much anymore. Instead they work to knock the anxious
filmmaker or writer down to a more realistic level with unfortunate statistics and cold warnings.
The Austin Film Festival also began -- in conjunction with the conference --
opening with the premier of "Deep In The Heart," a purely Texas film of varied
culture and atmosphere adapted from a stage play about documentary
filmmaker's encounter with the collage of colorful personalities that make up
the south of Texas. Other screenings included Kevin Spacey's "Albino Alligator,"
Keith Gordon's "Mother Night," and Emilo Estevez' "The War At Home."
At the conference luncheon on Friday, organizers announced the winners in the
various categories: Drina Kay, First Place in Family Screenplay category for
her script "Angel Pass" and Robert Bundy, First Place in the Adult Screenplay
for his work "The Columbian Expedition." "I've been practicing my acceptance
speech for 28 years, so I hope you have 20 minutes to spare," Kay said. Also
honored were writer Bill Wittliff ("Legends Of The Fall," "Barbarosa," "Lonesome Dove")
with this year's Distinguished Screenwriter Award and Barry Josephson, President of
Production at Columbia Pictures, with the Writer Appreciation Award.
But awards weren't the only thing conference organizers got excited about.
Additionally, they were proud to announce that screenwriters Brian Barrow and
Allen Odom, whose screenplay "Natural Selection" was a semi-finalist in this
year's competition, had acquired a 3 script development deal from Gotham
Entertainment Group. Noah Baylin of Gotham remarked of the duos first
screenwriting effort, "We were struck by their ability to capture images and
their unique voice." The announcement came as a great development for a
festival working to establish itself as a serious industry event where
repetitive panel talk is backed by positive and newsworthy action.