March 24, 2020
Serving as the CEO of AFS over the past 22 years, I’ve seen the film community in Austin grow and thrive, creating a culture and an ecosystem for independent filmmakers and media production that is an anomaly outside of the industry centers on the coasts. I’ve also seen us confront some very tough times–I remember the onset of the incentives wars, which drove a lot of production out of the state, and hurt many of our local filmmakers and crews. The economic recession in 2008 was no picnic, either. Now, we face an unprecedented global pandemic which affects every aspect of AFS’s mission and business.
Given the level of threat the COVID-19 crisis poses to our organization and filmmaking community, I’ve worked with my staff to make some sweeping changes to our programs and operations, so that AFS can survive this period and thrive in the long run. Our immediate goals are to start a fund to reopen the AFS Cinema, to keep Austin Public as a key resource for the community to have access to the tools of production, to support the most promising Texas artists through the AFS Grant, and to keep Austin Studios open for business, whenever the city deems it safe to do so.
A drastic reduction in programs and staff was required for AFS to move forward. On Monday, AFS laid off a third of our staff and all of our hourly workers at the AFS Cinema. This was the strongest team we have ever had and it is devastating to me and to the organization to lose so much talent.
AFS was in a strong financial position prior to the crisis, and was able to provide all staff who lost jobs with severance packages, including part-time and hourly staff at the AFS Cinema. In addition to staff reduction, all AFS management, including executives and myself, were furloughed one day per week, with the exception of our Community Media staff, who operate Austin Public. These measures are designed to allow AFS the runway that we hope will get us to the other side of the crisis.
I am so proud of how this community has come together to build the AFS we know today. At the time that this crisis hit, AFS was adding staff, not reducing it. The AFS Cinema was bucking all the nationwide trends of arthouse attendance and breaking internal records month after month. Other programs were adding capacity to serve more members of our community.
So, this blow lands with AFS in mid-climb, not mid-fall, and we are going to get through this and come back strong. We will do our part to serve the needs of this community, and we can do this so long as the community sticks with us.
I’ve included a video message from our Head of Film, Holly Herrick, to give you a feel for where we are today and where we will be through this crisis.
I wish you safety and good health, and l look forward to meeting you again soon.
CEO, Austin Film Society
March 17, 2020
Dear AFS Community,
In response to the Covid-19 outbreak and in the wake of changing circumstances daily, the AFS Cinema and Austin Public have made the decision to temporarily close effective March 17th, until further notice. Following the recommendations of the CDC and Austin Public Health, we believe the best course of action to keep the community safe is temporary closure.
If you have purchased a ticket for a screening that is now cancelled, you have three options: (1) request a raincheck towards a future event at the cinema; (2) donate your purchase to AFS (no action required); (3) request a refund.
If you are a member of AFS, your membership benefits at the Cinema will be on hold until we reopen and will be extended to make up for the period of closure.
As with many non-profits and small businesses, we will rely on the support of our community to get through a period of unprecedented disruption and uncertainty. Please consider making a contribution to help sustain AFS through this period.
We will continue to keep you informed, and you can always visit us online at austinfilm.org and on our social media where we will post the most updated information.
Be safe, and we will see you soon.
Head of Film & Creative Media