Austin Film Festival Celebrates Writers
By: Michelle Hershberger
Though the fall weather in Austin might be unpredictable, the festival season comes around like clockwork. Austin’s festival season celebrates the creativity and culture of the city, but there is no event quite like the Austin Film Festival (AFF).
Films speak to the conscience and the soul in a way unlike any other form of art. Perhaps this is because film combines several art forms—music, written word and visuals—for a comprehensive experience. Maybe seeing the lives of characters on the screen is similar to the everyday experience, but invites viewers to see from a different perspective.
Whatever the reason for film’s impact, AFF celebrates it. More specifically, the festival celebrates writers and writing.
For 23 years, the festival has showcased the importance of story. From retrospective screenings to anticipated feature films to short films, AFF highlights both developing and established writers and filmmakers.
Here were my three favorite festival events:
The Big Flip: Stories From the Modern Home Front
Long gone are the days of June Cleaver when most women stayed home to raise families. The Big Flip follows four families where the mother is the primary breadwinner and the husband stays at home to take care of the kids. This documentary follows the families as they redefine traditional gender roles, happiness, and purpose with some surprising outcomes.
The documentary maintains a good sense of humor while discussing a serious issue. At one point, one of the dad’s says his biggest victory as a stay-at-home dad is that he still pees standing up. The film highlights the high stakes for couples where the wife is the primary breadwinner, with divorce 40% more likely.
Writer and director Izzy Chan was in attendance at the world premiere at AFF and discussed results from a survey of Austin families. The survey suggests Austin might be a positive environment for big flip families. The Pew Research Center found a happiness gap between stay-at-home moms and breadwinning moms. The results of the Austin survey did not find this same happiness gap. Additionally, people in Austin were 33% more likely to say the workplace culture is family friendly.
A Little Princess
Part of the retrospective series, this 1995 film is the perfect fit for a festival celebrating storytellers. A young girl, Sara, is sent to a boarding school in New York by her father as he leaves for World War 1. Sara’s father gives her the very best before he leaves with the most extravagant room in the school. To make life at the bleak boarding school brighter, Sara entertains the other girls with a vivid retelling of the great Hindu epic The Ramayana.
When Sara gets the news of her father’s death, she becomes a servant at the school and becomes uninspired in her storytelling. As she begins to tell stories again to lift her spirits, she makes remarkable discoveries which help to reverse her fate.
Script Reading: The Ice Queens
The 1994 attack of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan has a surprising cultural endurance. From being referenced in a speech by Barack Obama to the 30 for 30 documentary The Price of Gold, the attack remains shocking. The Ice Queens puts a unique spin on this iconic historical moment with Zosia Mamet (Girls, Mad Men) as Tonya Harding and Alexandra Daddario (True Detective, American Horror Story) as Nancy Kerrigan.
Mamet is an interesting and convincing choice as Tonya Harding. Her reading showed a volatile yet vulnerable spin on the character. Daddario was also an excellent choice as the beautiful and poised Nancy Kerrigan.
This script made me excited for the full film as it explores the role of the media in the infamous rivalry. It also helps provide an answer for why we still care.
La La Land
Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and John Legend this film follows an actress and a musician trying to make it in modern day Los Angeles. Directed by Academy Award nominated writer and director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), this musical has a retro feel and plenty of heart and soul.
With unforgettable song and dance numbers—a personal favorite was the opening sequence—this film is sure to become a classic.