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First Person: Richard Linklater on the 20th Anniversary of the Austin Film Society

First Person: Richard Linklater on the 20th Anniversary of the Austin Film Society

[This is the latest in a regular series of “First Person” articles written by members of the film community. It is meant to showcase the opinions of our readers. indieWIRE readers interested in contributing a future “First Person” column should contact us by email: office AT indiewire DOT com.]

Manifest Destiny.

When asked if you ever thought you’d end up where you are, you’re supposed to say, “Never in a million years.” But if you asked the Austin Film Society that question, I’d have to say the answer might honestly be, “If not exactly, then pretty close.”

Seriously. I think everything we are today was in our DNA from the start. While on the one hand I can think of the endless “what if/didn’t happen” scenarios and how we would never have initially gotten off the ground without so many people’s specific support and generosity, on the other hand there’s the fact that we were a big success from the very beginning, our very first show.

Looking back over 20 years, I can say I now feel we were meant to be. It was really about the unique Austin community and a perfect moment in time with the right original cast of characters contributing in their own ways. Contrary to the death-rattle being heard all over the film landscape of the era, with campus theaters closing and film societies drying up all over the country, the Austin film scene was ready to spread its cinematic wings, and the film society has done its part over the years in helping to focus, define and nurture that on many ever-expanding levels.

When I say the film society was a success from the get-go, it’s important to remember that the key element in this equation was our definition of success. It was simple: if we could show movies and somehow pay for the rentals, shipping and phone calls, then get to do it again, that would be great. Like in so many areas of life, once you remove the profit motive and just want to make something cool happen because life would simply be better or more fun, it’s amazing what you can do and who will jump in and help you do it. Cassavetes talked about film being a good “alternate life” for people who don’t necessarily feel comfortable doing all the things the world thinks they should be doing. I couldn’t agree more, and I’m proud to say the film society was spawned by a loose coalition of freaks – asocial punks of various ages who wanted to live cinema and believed the only world that really mattered was the one that existed when the lights went down and the projector rolled.

History might treat you like the immigrating ancestors – mythologizing the effort or courage, etc. The truth is you were selfishly following your passion, not without long-term hopes, but basically enjoying the adventure, the newness and seeing just how far it could all go. From a more distant vantage point, you see your little actions were really about something much bigger. I think so fondly of everyone who has contributed, large or small, over the years and think of all of us as small conduits in the ever-renewing life force of cinema itself. That’s why I don’t think we’ll ever die as an organization. You could take away everything, and along would come some new film freaks with the need to share their passion with the community and the knowledge that film is life-giving: you nurture it, and it feeds you back tenfold.

This article is reprinted from the AFS 20th Anniversary Retrospective Book. It is being published with the permission of the Austin Film Society.

[Richard Linklater, founding member and artistic director of the Austin Film Society, is a filmmaker who has written and directed (except where noted) “Slacker“, “Dazed and Confused“, “Before Sunrise“, “The Newton Boys“, “Waking Life“, “Tape” (written by Stephen Belber), “The School of Rock” (written by Mike White), “Before Sunset“, “The Bad News Bears” (written by Bill Lancaster, Glenn Ficarra & John Requa), and the upcoming “A Scanner Darkly“. He is currently making “Fast Food Nation“.]

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