Now celebrating its 20th year — as well as the 35th anniversary of its parent organization, the Austin Film Society — the Texas Film Awards will honor such diverse talents as actors Kaitlyn Dever and Shelley Duvall and neo-soul auteur Erykah Badu at its annual ceremony on March 12. Duvall’s film debut, the Houston-shot “Brewster McCloud,” will also be recognized with the org’s Star of Texas Award.
The event is still scheduled to take place tonight, with emcee Parker Posey, AFS co-founder Richard Linklater and several local filmmakers and past honorees in attendance. Dever will not attend.
This morning, the AFS sent Variety the following statement: “The 20th Texas Film Awards are still scheduled to take place on Thursday, March 12th. With the ever changing circumstances the Austin Film Society is following the directives of the City, following updated information and proceeding with the safety of our guests in mind.”
In the words of Linklater, who co-founded the AFS several years before “Slacker” launched his filmmaking career: “The Austin Film Society started with just a small group of people deeply passionate about watching and making films. Little did we know that 35 years later we would have accomplished so much, with the core of the organization’s mission intact: showing great films and supporting filmmakers.”
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Reflecting on the anniversary, Linklater identifies such recent milestones as the dedication of the AFS Cinema on the grounds of Austin Studios in 2017, as well as the $2 million in grants allocated to Texas filmmakers last year.
But the organization’s flagship event always serves as a broader spotlight on the Lone Star State’s contributions to cinema in general.
Rising Star Award recipient Dever, whose roles in “Booksmart” and “Unbelievable” over the past year helped elevate her profile to previously unseen heights, grew up in Dallas, getting her earliest education in theater through the Dallas Young Actors Studio before she moved to Los Angeles at age 11. Yet her home state played a key role in her developing career; her introduction to Austin coincided with the explosive premiere of “Short Term 12,” in which she had a role, at the SXSW Film Festival.
“I’d actually never been to Austin my entire life — we’d always go to my aunt’s house in Houston, or somewhere in east Texas — until ‘Short Term’ went to South By,” Dever says. “It’s funny because growing up, I’d always had a completely different view of Texas — this was a whole new side of the state that I was so unaware of. So Texas holds a very special place in my heart, and I always love going back.”
Badu is also a Dallas native, and also traces an early career milestone to a visit to Austin: She got her first big break after a SXSW performance in the 1990s.
“Austin was kind of like our country Paris,” says Badu, who has since supplemented her sterling music career with performances in films ranging from “The Cider House Rules” to last year’s “What Men Want.” “Almost like the Berlin for this region of Texas. People were open and free, and music was literally the fabric that Austin is made of. It’s what Austin’s about. And the keeping it weird part was as much everyone else’s responsibility in Texas as it was Austin’s. Because it was our haven to be artistic and creative.”
“Brewster McCloud,” the uncategorizable fantasy-comedy that Robert Altman directed on location in Houston immediately after his smash success with “M.A.S.H.” in 1970, will be honored for its place in Texas film culture.
Michael Murphy, the longtime Altman collaborator who starred at Frank Shaft in the film, recalls how Altman hadn’t initially planned to set the film in Houston, but “he went down to Texas and he saw the Astrodome, and he kind of lost his mind over it.” The Astrodome was a brand new stadium at the time, and much of the film serves as an unintentional time capsule of the city.
“I’d never spent much time in Texas before,” Murphy says. “It was a reasonably sophisticated city, and I was expecting all these cowboy boots. But Bob really just delighted in it. He would always find the peculiar funny bone of a city, whether it was Kansas City or Nashville or Houston, and he’d just poke at it.”
In an email, Duvall stresses the importance of the film, and Texas in general, to her career: “I am a Texan. Born and raised in Houston, and now back living here again,” she says. “I love Texas, it has always been a big part of me. ‘Brewster McCloud’ came along and changed my life in many ways and took me to lots of places, but I am a Texas girl, always have been.”