Everything is truly bigger in Texas, including the 30th birthday celebration for the Austin Film Society, which finishes its year-long pearl anniversary at this year’s Texas Film Awards.
The organization, founded by Richard Linklater back when he was still slogging it out on the indiest fringes of film, gave birth to the Texas Film Hall of Fame 15 years ago. The hall will see four new Lone Star natives inducted this year, including the San Antonio-raised Carol Burnett, whom Mya Rudolph will present. (Linklater’s new film, “Everybody Wants Some,” will world premiere at SXSW the following evening, with an Austin Film Society screening several days later.)
Hosted by Texas Film Hall of Famer Mike Judge for the second year running, the evening will also honor Sony Pictures Classics co-president and co-founder Michael Barker (raised in Dallas), “Grey’s Anatomy” actor and director Chandra Wilson (hailing from Houston), and Dallas native Jesse Plemons, with the “Breaking Bad” and “Other People” actor receiving the Rising Star Award.
“I think if we waited any longer we’d have to induct him outright, he’s just exploding,” Austin Film Society president Rebecca Campbell says of Plemons. “And I think if you look at the (other) honorees, you’ll see a certain unifying theme with Chandra and Barker and Carol Burnett — in the sense that they’re all groundbreakers in one way or another.”
In the case of Barker — whose 25-year tenure at SPC has seen him collaborate with Texas filmmakers like Linklater, David Gordon Green, Jeff Nichols and Tommy Lee Jones — Campbell notes that his Texas roots go deeper than mere geography.
“Michael went to the University of Texas, and was the chair of the Texas Union Film Committee. And the cohort he was a part of is still largely together today, including the folks at the Austin Chronicle and SXSW. Michael, when we spoke with him about giving him this award, he rattled off about 20 people who’ve already been inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame as being key members of what he considered his community. And it was really inspiring to realize how much this Texas diaspora still forms a community. And that’s what I think is so great about the Texas Film Awards, is that it’s a way for a moment to bring them together. And Michael is at the pinnacle of that community.”
In concert with presenting the honors and announcing a new venture, the event will as usual serve as a fund-raising effort. In addition to holding year-round screenings, spearheading education programs and organizing public access TV programming in its converted airplane-hangar home base of Austin Studios, the AFS’ grant program has allocated approximately $1.5 million to several hundred emerging filmmakers since it was started by Linklater in 1996. Campbell notes that the event typically sees the society raise all of the money it needs for the year to continue its filmmaker grant program.
But beyond the parties and fund-raising, Campbell says that the annual event serves as an important reminder of the vibrancy of the Texas film scene, whether it stays at home or spreads elsewhere.
“It all goes back to Linklater choosing to stay here in Austin, and a number of other important directors making this place their home,” Campbell says. “It doesn’t mean they can afford to always work in Texas, but it remains a touchstone for them, and we’ve legitimately grown to pride ourselves as a film community. So it is sort of a diplomatic mission.”
Texas Film Awards
Studios, Austin, Texas