A Brief History of the AFS Grant

On the eve of the 2015 AFS Grant deadline (Hurry up, if you haven't submitted yet!), here is a very brief history of the AFS Grant from AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick.

Filmmakers have always been at the center of the Austin Film Society. Founded and run by filmmakers from the very beginning, screenings were originally programmed and hosted by filmmakers for other filmmakers. Many Austin artists’ film education was provided by AFS screenings, especially in the case of our founder and artistic director, Richard Linklater, who was AFS’ first film programmer and selected films based on what he wanted and needed to see as he developed his own aesthetic.

It wasn’t until after SLACKER was made that Linklater envisioned a new purpose for the Film Society outside of exhibiting great works of world cinema in Austin. At this time, the National Endowment for the Arts individual artist grants—which can be credited for the completion of SLACKER—were cut by the federal government, and became obsolete for filmmakers.  Austin was already a hot spot for filmmakers, but there was no clear support structure comparable to the media arts organizations that were being established in New York and Los Angeles. 

Could the Austin Film Society expand its programming and pool its contacts and resources to put together an artistic fund for Texas filmmakers? 

It was an ambitious vision; the society at that time was a bare bones organization run by part-time employees and volunteers, pulling in just enough cash to run the exhibition program. Raising non-operational funds at this juncture for any organization would be a leap, especially given that the model for film societies in the early 90s didn’t generally include artist support. But Linklater had a vision that came from that “by filmmakers, for filmmakers” spirit, and determined that AFS could perform support functions for filmmakers. He knew that other directors of his generation would get on board.

Beginning with premieres of SLACKER, DAZED AND CONFUSED and PULP FICTION, AFS began to raise money by bringing great directors to Austin to premiere their newest films.  Soderbergh, Tarantino and Terrence Malick are just a few of those who joined Robert Rodriguez and Linklater in the cause, and in 1996 AFS established the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund, awarding $30,000 in cash to filmmakers throughout the state. Among those first recipients, there was a new project from the legendary Eagle Pennell, and a short film by Bob Byington, now a fixture of the Texas film scene (Bob premiered his latest AFS grant funded feature, 7 CHINESE BROTHERS, at SXSW this past March).

With a long-range plan to increase the amount of the fund, AFS needed a stronger mechanism than premieres to generate funds. We established the Texas Film Hall of Fame, and now the annual Texas Film Awards are the biggest fundraiser for the program. 

2015 will mark AFS’ 20th grant cycle, and when we award the funds in August, we will surpass $1.5 million in cash given to Texas filmmakers.  This year alone, we’ll give out $105,000 in cash to support production, post-production, distribution and festival travel expenses for Texas filmmakers. On top of that, our in-kind package of production  and post-production services will exceed $40,000.

The grant continues to be a vital source of support for the state’s creative community. While we’ve built AFS’ artist services programs over the years, the AFS Grant remains at the heart of what we do and has supported some tremendous filmmakers towards massive career leaps. Artists who have been supported by the grant include Jeff Nichols (MUD, TAKE SHELTER), Jay Duplass (HBO’s “Togetherness”), Margaret Brown (THE GREAT INVISIBLE, THE ORDER OF MYTHS), David Lowery (upcoming PETE’S DRAGON, AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS), Kat Candler (HELLION), Emmy-Award winner Heather Courtney (WHERE SOLDIERS COME FROM), David Zellner (KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER), Andrew Bujalski (RESULTS) and Trey Edward Shults (KRISHA), among many other notable names.  Each year first and second-time filmmakers receive the grant, and AFS is with them on the ground floor.  

To have a sneak preview on the next generation of great Texas filmmakers, look out for this year’s AFS Grant recipients, announced in early September.  

This year’s AFS Grant was made possible by the many generous donors and attendees of the Texas Film Awards, as well as Dell Precision Systems, MPS Camera and Lighting Austin, The Four Seasons Austin, the NEA and TCA, Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin, and Kodak Motion Picture Film.