The AFI Dallas Intl. Film Festival is a reflection of founder Liener Temerlin and artistic director Michael Cain’s similar passions and differing expertise.
Born in a small Okalahoma town, Temerlin settled in Dallas after being awarded the Bronze Star as a U.S. Army lieutenant in Korea. After several attempts, he shelved dreams of writing the great American novel and over the next 50 years built one of the largest advertising agencies, Temerlin McClain.
Temerlin also avidly supported the arts and soon found that his passions blended. As a longtime board member of the American Film Institute, he was responsible for the institute’s “100 Best” lists, an ongoing series that has proved endlessly brandable.
“All my life I’ve been into concepts,” he says.
In dreaming up the festival, Temerlin’s first order of business was to establish some credibility.
Using his extensive contacts, Temerlin culled money from corporate and private sources to license the AFI moniker in a multiyear deal and fund the first-year budget of $3 million. The enviable sponsor roster is just a small snapshot of “the old ad man’s”connections and client list: Target, Bank of America, American Airlines, AT&T, Lexus and Ross Perot Jr.’s mega-development Victory Park, which as founding sponsor provides the fest a swank headquarters in Dallas’ Arts District.
Temerlin credits Cain for the first year’s success. An AFI alum with multiple commercial and music vid credits, Cain moved back to Dallas to care for his ailing father. He launched and oversaw Dallas’ now-defunct Deep Ellum Film Festival in 1999, an indie showcase that unspooled in the young, hip section of Dallas.
Originally, Cain approached Temerlin about starting a Dallas-based film school. Temerlin, an unabashed movie nut, countered with the festival idea.
For Cain, the pay raise that came with AFI Dallas was an opportunity to expand the fest canvas.
“I wanted to go more international in scope,” he says, “and that didn’t really match Deep Ellum.”
He’s also proud of the fest’s reach across Dallas. “While Victory Park is the hub, the fest takes over the city,” says Cain. “Toronto is a great example. You travel to the best venues, but none of them are more than 10 minutes apart.”
While he still keeps a foot in film production, Cain is very comfortable in his film festival shoes. “I never planned on being a festival director, but it feels so good,” he muses. “You meet people you’ve wanted to meet your whole life.”