Austin Film Society Announces Recipients of the 2023 AFS Grant for Short Films

This Year’s Grant Funding Will Support 16 Short Films
Made by 18 Texas Filmmakers 

January 4, 2024, AUSTIN, TX— The Austin Film Society is proud to announce 16 projects receiving the 2023 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 $2.6 million in cash grants to over 500 Texas filmmakers, creating life-changing opportunities for exceptional emerging artists making visionary work from a region often overlooked by the film industry. 

The full list of 2023 AFS Grantees for Short Films is below. Stills and headshots can be found here.

Grants in this funding cycle are awarded to short films — films 40 minutes or under — in any phase of production. In the 2023 shorts cycle, 16 projects by 18 director applicants were selected from 145 eligible applications, spanning narrative, documentary, animation and experimental work in diverse genres and styles. Among this year’s grant recipients, 12 of the 18 directors are receiving AFS grants for the first time. 

AFS Sr. Director of Programs Erica Deiparine-Sugars commented: “The enduring impact of the AFS Grant is that our region continues to be a hub for visionary artists and projects. Our three panelists were absolutely blown away by the quality of the work they saw in the submissions for short films this year, which speaks to the importance of Texas as a creative hub in the international landscape of independent film. We support emerging artists whose work will go on to make a lasting impact on film culture and the film industry at large.”

The AFS Grant for Short Films has an impressive track record. Recent jury prizes at Sundance, Tribeca, AFI, SXSW and Doc NYC have gone to AFS-supported short projects (More Than I Want To Remember, Birds, Walker). One of last year’s grant-supported films, Pasture Prime by Diffan Sina Norman, will premiere at Sundance this month.

The AFS Grant selections are made by a panel of industry experts. Participants in this year’s panel process included Isabel Castro, Jose Rodriguez and Lauren Wolkstein. 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: Jennifer Bracy, Jordan Buckley, Alfred Cervantes, Carlos F. Corral, Giselle De La Rosa, Kenya Gillespie, Pepe Garcia Gilling, Niloo Jalilvand, Andee Kinsey, Ivy Le, Jimmy Mendiola, Lizett Montiel, Maverick Moore, Kelly Daniela Norris, Tamar Price, Ananyaa Ravi, Pedro Rivas, Rock Shum and Neil Creque Williams. This year’s grant was administered by AFS Sr. Director of Programs Erica Deiparine-Sugars, Sr. Manager of Filmmaker Support Sharon Arteaga and Program Associate Maryan Nagy Captan.

In addition to the awards for shorts, AFS administers a special grant for an undergraduate student filmmaker through the Harrison McClure Endowed Film Fund. This year’s recipient was Emery Jones with their short film Halfway To Heaven.

AFS received support from MPS Camera and Lighting to provide an additional in-kind grant for production rentals and services for a filmmaker receiving cash funds from the AFS Grant. Director Bita Ghassemi received the MPS Camera and Lighting Austin Grant for her short Firewall, which gave her $10,000 for a multi-day camera package rental. 

Austin Film Society aims to actively work against the well-documented structural racism and sexism in the screen industries and brings an equity lens to the administration of all of its programs. Texas is among the nation’s most ethnically and culturally diverse places. The exceptional artists that AFS supports reflect the rich diversity of Texas, and many hail from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the film industry. Demographics of directors submitting to and receiving the grant are listed in the addendum. 

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 2024.

The AFS Grant has been a part of launching many significant careers. 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), David and Nathan Zellner (Showtime’s The Curse, Damsel, Sasquatch Sunset), Channing Godfrey Peoples (Disney+’s Genius: MLK/X, Miss Juneteenth), Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas (Skip Day, Directors’ Fortnight winners), Andrew Bujalski (Support The Girls, Funny Ha Ha) and Annie Silverstein (Bull, Cannes 2019 and SXSW 2020) all received production grants for shorts and/or independent feature films through the AFS Grant fund. This year’s Gotham Award-winning and Independent Spirit-nominated narrative, The Unknown Country (dir. Morrisa Maltz), was made with critical support from AFS Grant funds.

The AFS Grant is generously supported by grant partners Ley Line Entertainment, David Lowery, Oak Cliff Film Festival, the Warren Skaaren Charitable Trust, Kat Candler, Kyle and Noah Hawley, 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 2023 AFS Grant for Short Films

As We Leave, It Follows
Director: Jhad Villena (Lewisville, TX)
Narrative short in production
Description: When two second-generation immigrant friends — Jonah, a Filipino-American, and Gabriela, a Mexican-American — return to their hometown of Houston to help their families prepare for an approaching hurricane, they must both reckon with the reasons they left and ask themselves if a shared and survivable future exists for them in Texas.

Ballad of an Immigrant With Memory
Director: Sergio Muñoz Esquer (Austin, TX)
Narrative short in pre-production
Description: Following the death of his mother, Alberto, a middle-aged immigrant, confronts his biggest regrets as he embarks on a surreal journey through his memories to recover the rosary his mother gave him when he left Mexico 30 years ago.

Director: Chinwe Okorie (Austin, TX)
Narrative short in production
Description: In a bustling laundromat, a woman wrestles with grief … and a fitted sheet.

Director: Alyssa Taylor Wendt (Austin, TX)
Experimental short in pre-production
Description: Doppelwelt is a split-screen experimental 35-minute film which uses re-enactments of past-life regression sessions of the artist to illuminate a type of infinite shared memory using tropes of the Doppelganger, complex identity, and the multiverse.

Earth to KB
Director: Em Shapiro (Austin, TX)
Documentary short in post-production
Description: A slice-of-life and poem-based portrait of KB Brookins: a Black, queer, and trans, Texas writer manifesting freedom in their present and future.

Director: Bita Ghassemi (Round Rock, TX)
Narrative short in pre-production — MPS Camera and Lighting Austin Grant
Description: On the eve of her first day of sixth grade, Ani’s tranquil rural Texas life shatters when her long-lost father returns from Iran, unveiling family secrets amidst a night of unsettling discussions, eerie Persian folklore, and a surreal encounter that leaves her questioning reality. 

Flatbread Friends
Director: Sabiha Ahmad Khan (El Paso, TX)
Animated documentary short in production
Description: Two friends in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands — one with heritage from Pakistan, the other from Mexico — explore their common flatbread histories by confronting the chimera of the wheat flour tortilla.

Halfway to Heaven
Director: Emery Jones (Garland, TX)
Narrative short in post-production — The Harrison McClure Endowed Film Fund Award
Description: An idealist looks for self-fulfillment in their lover and undergoes a unique transformation.

Los Mosquitos
Director: Nicole Chi (Austin, TX)
Narrative short in distribution
Description: Aby, a 15-year-old Honduran teen, and her younger cousin, Nata, who has just arrived in the US, must forge new bonds and redefine their very concept of family together.

Hosanna Yemiru (Dallas, TX)
Narrative short in production
Description: Two generations of women reunite to clean up the aftermath of a murder.

Directors: Megan Trufant Tillman and Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence (McKinney and Austin, TX)
Narrative short in production
Description: Two broken strangers wrestling with identity meet on the subway just after midnight. A poignant journey through the past few hours of their night reveals how they got here and what broke them.

Plant Moms
Director: Kayla Lane Freeman (Austin, TX)
Narrative short in production
Description: A recent Austin transplant tries to make friends at a plant propagation party before discovering that the people there are even weirder than she imagined. 

Sangre Violenta / Sangre Violeta
Directors: Edna Diaz and Arturo R. Jiménez (Austin, TX)
Documentary short in distribution
Description: Why does the Mexican government consider feminist groups a greater threat than the country’s most lethal cartels? A grieving father, an inspiring acid-attack survivor, and a radical feminist group shed light on Mexico’s epidemic of violence against women and challenges the culture that allows these crimes to occur and go unpunished. 

Director: Lauren Santucci (Austin, TX)
Documentary short in production
Description: Teddy is a portrait of a male birth worker supporting pregnant people in Houston, Texas. A security guard by day, 27-year-old Timothy Gant, or “Teddy the Doula,” became a birth doula to combat the high rate of adverse birth outcomes among Black women and their infants. 

Under My Command
Director: Travis Lee Ratcliff (Austin, TX)
Documentary short in post-production
Description: Under My Command is a surreal investigative documentary uncovering the abuse of forensic hypnosis in Texas that has resulted in decades of wrongful convictions and executions.

Untitled Yeah Philly Documentary
Director: Cristin Stephens (Austin, TX)
Documentary short in production
Description: A group of West Philly teens find momentary respite from the instability of city life on a camping trip to the Pennsylvania wilderness.

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.

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The data we’re sharing has been provided to the Austin Film Society by the artists directly. Note that some artists choose not to self-identify. 

Demographic Data

Grant Recipients: In this grant cycle, 18 directors were selected for funding across 16 projects. Of the directors receiving grant funds, 13 identified as female (72%) and 2 as non-binary (11%), 8 grant recipients identified as members of the LGBTQAI+ community (44%) and 12 recipients identified with a community of color (66%).

Total Applicants: Out of the 158 filmmakers that applied for funding through the 2023 AFS Grant for Short Films, 76 identified as female (48%) and 4 as non-binary (2%), 30 as members of the LGBTQAI+ community (18%) and 85 identified with a community of color (53%).

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Will Stefanski