The festival started Tuesday evening, but I didn’t arrive until Thursday afternoon. We decided to make the Austin trip a full (film)family affair, so my husband Justin came along. He spent Thursday evening catching up with friends who recently moved to Austin, while I went to the Filmmaker Mixer, joined by About a Donkey cast member Alexandra Clayton (who also flew in for the festival). We mingled a bit with new faces, but spent most of the hour catching up with each other (Alexandra moved to LA shortly after we wrapped production in 2017), and with a few filmmaker friends I’ve met at festivals in the past. It was a fun night at the Alamo Drafthouse, where we watched that night’s screening of one trailer, a music video, 5 shorts, and a feature — over a 3 hour block. It was a long lineup for one sitting, but mostly compelling enough to warrant the length.
That night was, unfortunately, the last screening at Alamo Drafthouse. It’ll admit, it’s a bit disappointing that only 1/3 of the films got a chance to play at their fullest quality in that venue; but I do appreciate the festival trying to squeeze in as many there as possible. The festival director explained that their weekend conflicted with Fantastic Fest (Alamo Drafthouse’s own resident festival), and as a truly independent festival that doesn’t allow the industry and celebrity to dictate what they program, having all of ARFF hosted at the theater just wasn’t an option. I totally get and respect that.
Friday and Saturday moved to the Crowne Plaza hotel, where two rooms where converted into theaters, along with a third space for panels. I’ve been to a few festivals held at hotels and have mostly experienced poor screening quality and non-stop tech issues, so I was a little wary of this one. However, ARFF clearly put in the prep work to make sure the spaces felt as much like theaters as possible. And while the picture and sound didn’t have Alamo Drafthouse crispness, there were no tech disruptions that I encountered throughout the fest.
Having arrived late Thursday night, Kelsey & her fiancée (and CongestedCat collaborator) Dani Thomas, joined me & Justin for breakfast Friday morning. Matt and About a Donkey actor Katherine Wessling flew in that morning, and met up with us, as well. (Like I said, full film-family affair.) As our first time in Austin, we tried to balance sightseeing, eating all of the things we could, and film watching/supporting as much as possible. We spent the first half of the day walking around South Congress street, taking in the artsy area of the city.
Our screening was then at 3:30pm. I’ll admit, this wasn’t a great slot and we were worried we’d have a low turnout. And, unfortunately, that was the case. I do understand that finding a good fit for everyone isn’t possible in a lineup of 150ish films. However, our 5 local friends really wanted to attend but they all had work. If our slot had been just 2 hours later, they could’ve made it. So, though I understand, I’d be lying if I said the slot wasn’t a bummer. I’ll also say that, after our North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival screening, we were maybe a bit spoiled by how embedded that festival is in the community & how much of a local draw it has. So, our standards of a successful screening for this film had maybe skyrocketed since our Georgia screening. We did some targeted ads on social media for NCGLFF, but our over 100-person audience was really the benefit of that festival’s reach. So, we had high hopes for this festival; not to that degree but we thought it’d have at least a bit of a general public following, as well. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though. We ended up with just 27 people in the crowd (not including the 7 of us and the 4 filmmakers from the 2 shorts that screened as part of the block). And while I am absolutely so appreciative of the fact that other filmmakers came out to see our film, I was really hoping to get some local, non-filmmaker attendance. Our mission with the film is largely to reach people and generate some conversations; maybe even open minds a bit towards empathy & acceptance. It’s a big part of why we’ve been targeting bible belt areas through our festival submissions. So, to not have anyone in the room that wasn’t a filmmaker with a film screening in the festival was a small letdown. That said, the response from the crowd was truly wonderful. They laughed (someone even told me they cried at a sweet moment), and all had lovely comments during the Q&A and for nearly 30 minutes of chatting afterwards. I’m so honored they chose to see our film, especially since there was another block and a panel happening simultaneously.
After the chatting wrapped up, we decided to go out for celebratory drinks. Then, we explored downtown Austin (and by explored, I mean sped-walk through it) to get to the infamous South Congress Street Bridge bats, which I was told by many people were overrated; and I’ll admit they kind of are, but I’m glad I saw them anyway because I would’ve always wondered otherwise. (Hopefully the fam feels the same way and doesn’t resent the walk to see them. I think I made up for it by making sure everyone got to have Texas BBQ that night, while I grabbed a vegan bite from the delicious food truck Arlo’s.)
After that, everyone slept off their food coma, while I caught part of the late night horror-comedy block. As a festival that originally started as a genre festival, horror filmmakers are in high attendance at the fest. So, that was a fun one to attend.
Sunday, we had amazing breakfast tacos (at a vegan-friendly place called Taco Joint), and then spent the rest of the day catching films as we could, here & there, before the awards ceremony. We ended up winning Best Produced Screenplay (and Best Animal Actor; go Cinnamon)! Being nominated in 7 categories was an honor in itself, but we have to admit we’re extremely proud & grateful to have taken home that award.
All in all, the experience was lovely because we all got to spend time together in Austin, as well as share our film with an engaged audience. And I got to meetup with filmmaker friends, both old & new — many of whom I’d only known via social media. The festival itself is run by really kind & fun people who, as filmmakers themselves, clearly care about storytellers and why we do what we do. The festival director, Jim, was so enthusiastic about our film. His affection for the film alone made me really excited to attend the festival and meet everyone. There’s a real family vibe. It had the most filmmaker attendance I think I’ve ever seen at a festival of its size, which is pretty amazing. However, as I said, it was really only filmmakers or friends & family of selected filmmakers at the screenings; and not just ours, all of them. I think that, like in New York where there are top industry festivals and so many things to choose to do on any given night, Austin is too booming of a City for a truly independent festival to hook a non-filmmaker audience. They could definitely get there as they grow each year; but I’m sure it’s incredibly hard to get attention & support with Fantastic Fest happening at the same time and the Austin Film Festival right around the corner (not to mention SXSW in March). All in all, I would say Austin Revolution is excellent for networking with other filmmakers to find friendship & country-wide collaborators, as well as for seeing truly independent films of wide variety without genre discrimination. It’s not ideal for reaching and engaging non-filmmaker audiences, though. I think that’s totally fine; filmmakers should just know what their goals are out of every festival and what they can expect from attending. So, hopefully sharing my experience offers that insight.
In any case, we had a blast. I’d like to thank ARFF for showcasing us and our film, AND for the generous donation they made to the West Texas Donkey Sanctuary in our honor! <3
Local Vegan Treat:
Bananarchy, the frozen banana truck (not stand), is AMAZING! They label all vegan options. It’s definitely a must-try if ever in Austin.
Catch the film next at: