On Thursday night, the Austin Film Society will hold its 15th annual Texas Film Awards ceremony, which traditionally takes place the night before the SXSW Film Festival. Honorees this year include famous Texans Tommy Lee Jones, Guillermo Del Toro, Bonnie Curtis and Luke Wilson, alongside a posthumous tribute to Austin film guru L.M. Kit Carson. Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” will also receive a special award.
But Linklater will have more than one reason to celebrate: This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of AFS, the non-profit film organization that he co-founded with cinematographer Lee Daniel in 1985. Over the years, as Linklater’s filmmaking career has blossomed, he has retained a prominent role at AFS — shaping Austin’s thriving film culture in the process. Now, the Film Society has its own theater and a successful grant program that has so far awarded a cumulative total of $1.6 million to filmmakers. Indiewire reached out to many of the prominent figures impacted by AFS over the years to recall its evolution and ongoing significance.
Co-Founder, Austin Film Society, Filmmaker
AFS grew out of the desire to see films we haven't seen before, through all of the amazing things that the Film Society has accomplished over the years, things that we never dreamed imaginable at the beginning, such as starting a production facility and surpassing $1.5 million in cash grants to hundreds of Texas filmmakers. At the heart of it all is a community of people passionate about film. It's the "society" that makes AFS.
Co-Founder of the Texas Film Hall of Fame and the Texas Film Awards, Co-Founder and Editor of The Austin Chronicle, Director of SXSW
The extraordinary thing about the Austin film scene, why it has produced so many fine filmmakers and outstanding films, is that it is a cooperative creative community -- emphasize all three of those words - cooperative, creative and community.
Charles Ramírez Berg
University of Texas Radio, Television, Film program Professor, founding board member of AFS
That all came out of those early, early days where Rick basically taught himself film history. He would rent all these filmmakers' work — Ozu or whomever — and then invite other people to come for a dollar or so to help defray the costs of the shipping and film itself. It was more his vision of the whole thing that I remember. He wanted to share it with everybody and find an inexpensive way to do it. He's watching these films and might as well share it with Austin. So everything that has come after that was all just Rick's vision.
I first met Rick because I was teaching at the University of Texas as a doctorate student and teaching a big film history class. He came to my office hours asking if I'd distribute some flyers for a screening he was going to have. That was 1985. The particular screening was some avant grade films, like Luis Buñuel's "Un Chien Andalou" and Kenneth Anger's "Scorpio Rising." So I started showing up to his screenings. The next thing that happened was that Rick started applying for grants. He told me, "In order for me to apply for grants, we need to call ourselves something, and have a board." Rick invited me to be on the board. I said, "Well, what do I have to do?" He said, "Nothing. I just need your name." So that was that.
Then he said, "You know what? They're requiring the board have meetings. Is that OK?" The early meetings were just us getting together and talking about movies — him and me and Louis Black and some others. After not too long, we realized we needed to have an organization and somebody to help us run this on a daily basis. We needed to have some office managers. But it was all Rick's vision — and he was a generous visionary. It was never about making money. it was all about movies.
Producer, SXSW Film Festival and Former AFS Board Member
Because we [Pierson and her husband, producer John Pierson] were involved with Rick's "Slacker," AFS was my first association with Austin. We used to get the schedule for AFS mailed to us in New York and I wanted to go. I used to look at it and think, "I wish I was there." It was appealing to me before I moved here.
Producer, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Documentary filmmaker
I had the good fortune to dip into the Austin film scene in the early 90's - just post-"Slacker." I was so impressed by the generous spirit of the filmmaking community and it was all anchored by the Austin Film Society. To shoot a behind-the-scenes look at "Dazed and Confused," I borrowed —and learned how to use — AFS's Nagra and Rick Linklater lent us his Arri so that the wonderful cinematographer Deborah Lewis, an Austin local and one of my best friends from childhood, could shoot. Shameless plug: You can see "Making Dazed" on The Criterion Collection's "Dazed and Confused" DVD.
Filmmaker, "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter"
I've been attending Austin Film Society screenings since I first moved to Austin over 20 years ago. It's been an integral part of my film education, and I've had so many eye-opening, formative experiences being exposed for the first time to work by Fassbinder, Bresson, Boetticher among others.
Producer, SXSW Film Festival and Former AFS Board Member
We decided to move here in 2004. We started looking at houses and were planning to move. John came down around April 30th of that year and then I flew down on Memorial Day weekend to see the house he wanted. Then I went out to lunch with Louis Black, who I didn't know well. I told him my background, who I was, that we were moving to Austin. Not soon after I got a call that I was invited to join the AFS board. By the time we arrived I was a board member. It became the grounding for my Austin life. A lot of my closest friends are board members.