Austin Film Society Announces Recipients of the 2022 AFS Grant for Short Films

(Still from Kenya Gillespie’s GIVE, a 2022 AFS Grant for Short Films recipient)

Will Stefanski

Ten Short Projects and Eleven Directors Reflect the Diversity and Exceptional Talent of Texas’ Filmmaking Community

January 10, 2023, AUSTIN, TX— The Austin Film Society is proud to announce 11 recipients of the 2022 AFS Grant for Short Films, the annually renewed production fund for emerging Texas filmmakers. Since its creation in 1996, the AFS Grant has awarded more than $2.4 million in cash grants to over 450 Texas filmmakers, creating life-changing opportunities for artists traditionally underrepresented in the film industry and working outside large industry centers. A vital resource for Texas independent filmmakers from diverse backgrounds, the AFS Grant is intended to support career leaps for emerging to mid-career artists. This year’s group of grantees demonstrates the organization’s ongoing commitment to empowering Texas-based storytellers and creating more access and equity in the regional independent film sector.

Grants in this funding cycle are awarded to short films — films 40 minutes or under — in any phase of production. Ten projects by eleven director applicants were selected from 141 applicants: eight narrative shorts (two of them animated) and two documentary shorts. Seven of the eleven directors are receiving AFS grants for the first time.

In addition to cash grants, AFS Grant partners offered significant in-kind support goods and services. Director Diffan Norman received the MPS Camera and Lighting Austin Grant for his short Pasture Prime, which gave him up to $10,000 in production services, including cameras, lenses, lighting/grip and electrical, among other services. This year’s recipient of funds from the Harrison McClure Endowed Film Fund — which awards cash to one undergraduate student project as a part of the AFS Grant for Short Films — was Ramini Ramazani for her narrative short Bury Me Softly in This World.

AFS Director of Programs Erica Deiparine-Sugars said, “While short films are essential to filmmakers’ career opportunities, funding sources for shorts are scarce. Nationally, the AFS Grant is one of the few unrestricted funds to support filmmakers making shorts, and it exclusively funds Texas-based artists, ensuring that regional filmmakers have resources dedicated to them.” Sugars continued,  “With seven first-time grantees this cycle, AFS is continuing to identify and elevate early-career creatives from diverse backgrounds.”  

The AFS Grant selections are made by a panel of industry experts. Those who jury the production grant reside outside of the state of Texas and are integral in selecting new and diverse talent. Participants in this year’s panel process included Kia Brooks, Deputy Director of The Gotham Film and Media Institute; filmmaker Bing Liu who is known for the Academy-Award®-nominated documentary Minding the Gap; and John Magary, also a filmmaker, known for writing and directing The Mend, which premiered at SXSW 2014. A diverse committee of filmmakers, film industry professionals and former AFS Grant recipients act as first-round reviewers, providing feedback and recommendations to the panel. Reviewers included: filmmakers Tamar Price, Sally O’Grady, Ryan Darbonne, Kelly Daniela Norris, Karen Skloss, Jim Hickcox, Jessie Auritt, Jessica Wolfson, Jenny Waldo, Christian Nelson; producers Jeffrey Brown, Courtney Ware; film programmers Parker May (Oak Cliff FF), Casey Baron (Austin FF), Andee Kinzy (Girl Improved), Eugenio Del Bosque (CinéFest); Gabriela A. Treviño from the Loredo Film Society, Hanna Huang from the Austin Asian American Film Festival and Alfred Cervantes from the Houston Film Commission. This year’s grant was administered by AFS Director of Programs Erica Deiparine-Sugars and Filmmaker Support Coordinator Maryan Nagy Captan.

Some of AFS’s most successful program alumni over the years received grants for short-form work. Short films can often be a springboard to feature-length projects and are an excellent platform for filmmakers to practice their craft and define their voices. Filmmakers Kat Candler (former showrunner of O Network’s Queen Sugar, Hellion, 13 Reasons Why), David Lowery (The Green Knight, Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story), Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas (Skip Day, Directors’ Fortnight winners) and Annie Silverstein (Bull, Cannes 2019 and SXSW 2020) were all awarded AFS Grants for short work prior to completing their breakout feature films. This year, director Amy Bench — a recipient of the AFS Shorts Grant in 2021 and 2022 — appeared on the shortlist for this year’s Academy Awards® for her animated short More Than I Want To Remember.

This year’s projects reflect the organization’s commitment to funding exceptional artistic voices that often come from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the film industry while aiming to actively work against structural racism and sexism in the screen industries. In this grant cycle, female-identifying filmmakers make up 55% of the recipients, and separately, 82% of the recipients identify with a community of color.

The full list of 2022 AFS Grantees for Short Films is below. Stills and headshots can be found here.

About the AFS Grant
The AFS Grant is administered with two application periods and deadlines. The spring grant application cycle is for documentary and narrative feature-length film projects (over 40 minutes) in any phase of production or feature-length films in development. The fall grant application cycle is for short films, 40 minutes or under in length. The next spring application cycle, the AFS Grant for Feature Films, will open in April 2023.

The AFS Grant is generously supported by grant partners Oak Cliff Film Festival, Ley Line Entertainment, Kat Candler, MPS Camera and Lighting and Stuck On On, in addition to the City of Austin Economic Development Department/Cultural Arts Division and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Recipients of the 2022 AFS Grant for Short Films

Breaking Silence
Directors: Amy Bench and Annie Silverstein
Documentary Short
A portrait of a Deaf activist and his formerly incarcerated daughter, who build new bonds through their experiences in the criminal justice system.

Bury Me Softly in This World
Director: Ramini Ramazani
The Harrison McClure Endowed Film Fund Award
Narrative Short
Based on the true story of L’Inconnue de la Seine. A detective is tasked with the case of identifying the breathtaking corpse of an unidentified drowning victim — a corpse which is exploited after a local toymaker begins to sell death masks of the young girl to the townspeople. 

Director: Monika Watkins
Animated Narrative Short
When Dabney Montgomery receives a word from God to break the segregated law, he tries to run from his purpose. But when faced with the dangers of disobedience, he surrenders to God’s will.

Director: Kenya Gillespie
Narrative Short
A composer attempts to unravel the memories of his relationship with his classical singer ex-boyfriend.

Director: Oscar Perez-Chairez
Narrative Short
Austin, Texas, 1996. A teenage Mexican immigrant struggles with his identity as he slowly assimilates into American culture despite his mother’s growing disapproval of his change.

On Dying of Dementia in a Capitalist System
Director: Anne Lewis
Animated Narrative Short
An animation documentary that takes a personal look at the humanity of people inside memory care and the business that surrounds dying, based on an observational poem.

Pasture Prime
Director: Diffan Norman
MPS Camera Austin Award
Narrative Short
An aging widow re-evaluates the boundaries of friendship when she falls for a married man she meets at church.

Rooftop Lempicka
Director: Hang Nguyen
Narrative Short
In 2002 Saigon, Vietnam, a ten-year-old girl learns her first lessons of womanhood and sexuality by possessing a nude painting book by a Texas female artist and befriending her conservative parents’ new tenant.

The Son Who Can’t Play Trumpet
Director: Isaac Garza
Narrative Short
At a birthday party, things escalate after a Latino father pressures his grown son to play the trumpet for his guests.

Tushurai (Those Who Stay)
Director: Robert Hope
Documentary Short
Every Fall, the only road to Tusheti in the Republic of Georgia closes for 7 months. An 82-year-old mountain doctor braves what could be the last winter of his career making housecalls on horseback to his dwindling ancestral population that chooses to stay. 

About Austin Film Society
Founded in 1985 by filmmaker Richard Linklater, AFS creates life-changing opportunities for filmmakers, catalyzes Austin and Texas as a creative hub, and brings the community together around great film. AFS is committed to racial equity and inclusion, with an objective to deliver programs that actively dismantle the structural racism, sexism and other bias in the screen industries. AFS supports filmmakers from all backgrounds towards career leaps, encouraging exceptional artistic projects with grants and support services. AFS operates Austin Studios, a 20-acre production facility, to attract and grow the creative media ecosystem. Austin Public, a space for our city’s diverse mediamakers to train and collaborate, provides many points of access to filmmaking and film careers. The AFS Cinema is an ambitiously programmed repertory and first run arthouse with broad community engagement. By hosting premieres, local and international industry events, and the Texas Film Awards, AFS shines the national spotlight on Texas filmmakers while connecting Austin and Texas to the wider film community. AFS is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.