Austin Film Society Announces the 2020 AFS Grant for Short Films Recipients

(Image from UNTITLED MUGENI PROJECT, animated documentary short by Amy Bench)

Brady Dyer, Communications Manager

Austin Film Society Announces Recipients of the 2020 AFS Grant for Short Films

Eleven Emerging Filmmakers and Short Projects Reflect the Diversity of the Texas Filmmaking Community

December 16, 2020 (Austin, TX) — The Austin Film Society is proud to announce eleven recipients of the AFS Grant for Short Films, the annually renewed production fund for emerging Texas filmmakers. With this round of funding, AFS hands out $32,500 in cash grants as well as $11,440 in-kind support.

In addition to cash grants, AFS Grant partners offered significant in-kind support goods and services. MPS Camera and Lighting Austin granted a $10,000 in-kind certificate to one project, Spencer Cook’s ACT OF GOD. AFS partnered with Vimeo Pro to grant six Vimeo Pro accounts to filmmakers in the production phase of their projects.

This round of funding supplements the cash grants that were awarded to feature-length film projects in September, including a newly created grant for projects in the development stage, making the total AFS Grant cash awards to filmmakers total over $146,000 for the calendar year.

AFS Head of Film Holly Herrick stated, “With our awards, we are celebrating short film as an important format for artistic expression, while also recognizing that these films are a critical pathway for emerging filmmakers who are developing their voices. We were moved and inspired by the vision and artistry of the selected filmmakers and we look forward to them sharing their stories with Texas and with the world.”

Director of Programs Erica Deiparine-Sugars added: “The next generation of filmmakers in Texas are telling important stories, often from their own communities or inspired by their personal heritage and experiences. This exciting new cohort of grant funded filmmakers are a strong indicator of the depth and diversity of Texas’ cinematic talent.”

Grants are awarded to short films—films 40 minutes or under—in any phase of production. Seven narrative and four documentary shorts were selected from 121 applicants for this round of funding, specifically for short form films. The AFS Grant open call for feature films will open in April 2021.

Some of Austin Film Society’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 voice. Filmmakers Kat Candler (showrunner of O Network’s Queen Sugar), David Lowery (PETE’S DRAGON, A GHOST STORY), Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas (SKIP DAY, Director’s Fortnight Winners) and Annie Silverstein (BULL, Cannes 2019, SXSW 2020) were all awarded AFS Grants for short work prior to completing their breakout feature films.

This year’s projects reflect the Austin Film Society’s commitment to funding exceptional artistic voices that often come from backgrounds traditionally under-represented in the film industry, and who are working outside of large industry centers. Nine of the twelve directors of the eleven projects were filmmakers identifying with a community of color, five of the twelve directors are women of color. Six of the twelve directors are female or non-binary gender-identifying. Eight of the twelve recipients are receiving AFS production grants for the first time.

The full list of 2020 AFS Grantees for Short Films is below. Stills and headshots can be found here.

The AFS Grant selections are made by a panel of industry experts residing outside of the state of Texas. This year’s panelists for short films included filmmakers Monica Peña, Mike Jacobs, and filmmaker and film programmer DaManuel Richardson. This year’s grant was administered by AFS Head of Film & Creative Media, Holly Herrick, AFS Director of Programs Erica Deiparine-Sugars and Programming Coordinator Sara Tynan.

The 2020 awards for short films are made up of cash and in-kind prizes from AFS partners. In-kind grants are provided by MPS Camera and Lighting. The Harrison McClure Endowed Film Fund awards cash funds to one undergraduate student project as a part of the AFS Grant for short films.


Director: Spencer Cook, Austin
MPS Award Camera and Lighting Award
A found $100 bill leads a disabled man on a chase that destroys his wheelchair and forces him to reckon with his dependence on others.

Director: Prakshi Malik, Austin
Disaster brews when Seher gets accepted to a boarding school-a dream come true-on the evening of a big family dinner.

Director: Deborah Valcin, Austin
Deborah is angry. Her repressed anger and guilt consumes her as she speaks with her Inner Monologue. After being told by her friend that her emotions don’t matter, Deborah will ignore the way people may see her so that she can release the one emotion Black women are told by society to suppress.

Directors: Ramón Villa-Hernández and Alejandra Aragón, El Paso
Wendy (16), maker and aspiring engineer, tinkers using parts from discarded electronics to innovate 3D printed prostheses for her best friend Shelly (15), who has double limb deficiencies. This Mexican-American tech disruptor reinvents cultural and gender norms in a turbulent backdrop of the border, currently healing from a horrific racially-motivated domestic terrorist attack.

Director: Wren Lee, Dallas
Harrison McClure Endowed Film Fund Grant for a Texas undergraduate student
College student Tina ‘Teeny’ Wong comes back home to her strict, Chinese, immigrant mother for the first time since leaving for college with news about her future.

Director: Chinwe Okorie, Austin
After adopting a new identity at her predominately white school, a young Black girl befriends a wealthy, yet troubled, classmate. She soon becomes a pariah after repeating something she shouldn’t have to her classmate.

Director: Paul Lovelace, Austin
Gilbert Lujan’s postal route is one of the longest and remote in the United States. As he travels 133 miles to the West Texas border, we see how Lujan is more than just a mailman for these hard-to-reach communities.

Director: Kenya Gillespie, Austin
A composer turns to music to process the loss of his ex-boyfriend.

Director: Sachin Dheeraj Mudigonda, Pflugerville
Anaben Pawar is an elderly tribal woman accused of witchcraft in rural India. Through Ana’s story, we delve into a deep-rooted culture of patriarchy and examine one of the most monstrous attacks on women’s bodies in modern India: the witch-hunt.

Director: Amy Bench, Austin
Animated Documentary
One night at her home in southeastern Congo, fourteen-year-old Mugeni awakes to the sounds of bombs. As her family scatters to the surrounding forests to save themselves, Mugeni finds herself completely alone. From there, she sets out on a remarkable solo journey across the globe, determined to reunite with her lost loved ones and lift up the Banyamulenge people.

Director: Ryan Darbonne, Austin
In 1868, after discovering the lifeless body of a man, a sensitive eight-year-old boy living in small town Louisiana drifts into his own fantasy world.

For 40 years, MPS has provided world-class services to clients around the corner and around the globe. Focused on providing the friendliest, most comfortable atmosphere and the most functional facility imaginable, MPS’s Dallas and Austin offices offer customized packages designed specifically for movies, commercials and television shows.

Vimeo is the world’s leading professional video platform. Vimeo Pro is the best (and most affordable) way for creative professionals to share their videos with the world, in the highest quality possible.

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.

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