On March 8, the Austin Film Society will present the 18th annual Texas Film Awards at a gala event held at its own AFS Cinema. The ceremony, which takes place the day before SXSW’s opening night and raises funds for the org’s artistic and educational programs, will honor two artists with Texas connections: Academy Award-nominated director and screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Armie Hammer.
The event will also be a chance for the AFS to celebrate its achievements over the past year and look ahead to new projects. Just last year, the org cut the ribbon on the AFS Cinema, a two-screen theater showcasing arthouse and repertory films. And this year, according to AFS co-founder Richard Linklater, they are working to finish renovations on Austin Studios, their 20-acre facility that offers up soundstages, equipment, office space and other amenities for film productions.
“It used to be a National Guard armory,” Linklater says. “It was kind of a raw space over the years. Now we’re moving to actually renovate it. We’ll be expanding existing studios, adding office space and editing rooms. We’ve got a big long- term plan and commitment to what we’re doing over there. We’re calling it a media hub for the whole community.”
Supporting the film industry in the Lone Star State, and celebrating the people who have helped make it thrive over the past 33 years since the Austin Film Society was formed, is something that extends even to its choice of honorees at the Texas Film Awards and, in who its newest award is named after. This year, the AFS will hand out the inaugural Jonathan Demme Award, named for the Academy Award-winning filmmaker of “The Silence of the Lambs” who died last year at the age of 73.
“Demme had a big impact on my life,” Linklater says. “In the late ’70s or early ’80s, he discovered some films from Austin that he ended up showing at the Collective for Living Cinema in New York. I was just an offshore oil worker in Houston at the time, just getting interested in film, but I heard about that and thought, ‘Maybe Austin is the place for me.’
“His enthusiasm and generosity impacted people who he ended up being a mentor to,” Linklater continues. “Even when he was already sick and had gone through treatment, he came [to Austin] for an artist-intensive weekend where we pick three films that are soon to go into production and do cast readings and work with the directors. There he was helping out these young filmmakers. Here he is sick, and we don’t know how much longer he’s got, and doing that.”
Demme also left a sizable impression on Anderson, the director who will receive the inaugural award named for him. Anderson was once asked which three filmmakers were most inspirational to him, he responded, “Jonathan Demme, Jonathan Demme and Jonathan Demme.”
Though raised in Southern California, Anderson left his mark on Texas when he shot his masterpiece “There Will Be Blood” in Marfa, later giving the film its world premiere at Austin’s Fantastic Fest.
Armie Hammer’s roots in Texas go even deeper. The 31-year-old actor, who is set to receive Variety’s One to Acclaim Award, spent part of his childhood there and is now co-owner, with his wife, Elizabeth, of Bird Bakery, which has two locations: Dallas and San Antonio.
While that certainly helped sweeten the choice for this year’s recipient of this award, the AFS is really celebrating Hammer’s onscreen work, particularly his turn in “Call Me by Your Name.” His performance as a young archaeology student falling into a heated romance with the teen son (played by Timothee Chalamet) of his professor has earned him critical raves and plenty of award nominations. But to hear Hammer tell it, he hasn’t had much time to take stock of what he accomplished with the film.
“Not really, because we’ve basically been promoting this movie for 18 months,” he says. “That doesn’t mean it’s lost on me. We made a project that we sincerely believed in. My stance was that maybe no one will see this, but I will still feel so validated as an artist. Fortunately, people have responded to it. To put your heart and soul into something and have it be well-received is really something.”