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

(image from FLY GIRL, one of the 2020 AFS Grant for Feature Films recipients) 

Brady Dyer, Communications Manager

Austin Film Society hands out $111,000 in cash grants to feature film projects by Texas Filmmakers

The 15 recipients of the 2020 AFS Grant for Feature Films reflect the diversity of Texas’ filmmaking community

2020 Grant for Short Films, which will award more cash and in-kind prizes, is now open for submissions

September 1, 2020 — The Austin Film Society announces funding for 15 feature-length film projects for the 2020 AFS Grant for Feature Films, the annually renewed fund for emerging Texas filmmakers. AFS Grants provide vital resources to Texas filmmakers, creating opportunities for artists with backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in the film industry and who are working outside of large industry centers. These regional filmmakers often struggle for recognition from national funding sources, and AFS steps in to provide support at a critical juncture. This year’s recipient slate, and AFS’s expanded fund to meet filmmakers’ needs, demonstrates the organization’s ongoing commitment to empowering diverse Texas storytellers and ensuring that our regional makers have equitable access to opportunities.

In this extraordinary and uniquely challenging year, AFS expanded the grant program, creating the AFS Grant for Development to provide further funding resources to mid-career artists; partnered with the Stand With Austin fund to support projects adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; and worked with Ley Line Entertainment, Sailor Bear, the Dallas Producers Association and the Oak Cliff Film Festival to fund three debut feature projects by north-Texas based directors through the North Texas Pioneer Film Fund (a special section of the AFS Grant program).

“AFS is focused on building the ecosystem for filmmaking in Texas, so that it’s a boost, and not an impediment, to live in Texas and advance your career from here, and the AFS Grant is a major initiative that serves that vision.” said Rebecca Campbell, CEO of the Austin Film Society. “The Grant program has traditionally provided the support that the industry often fails to offer to filmmakers from communities of color who have unique stories to tell. The AFS Grant is there to encourage Texas-originated projects and ensure that Texas-made films reflect the incredible diversity of this region.”

15 projects by 16 director applicants were selected for AFS Grant awards: five feature documentaries and 10 narrative features. The applicants represent one of the most geographically diverse groups in AFS funding history, with directors residing in Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Arlington, Eagle Pass, Taylor, Missouri City and Marfa, Texas. Nine projects will be debut features for the selected filmmakers. Four are second features, and two are third or fourth feature film projects for the directors.

AFS intends for the AFS Grant program to actively work against the structural racism and sexism in the screen industries. 48% of AFS Grant applicants identified with a community of color, while 66.6% of the recipients did. Of the recipient pool, 38.8% identify as Latino/Hispanic (vs 21% of applicants), 31% White/Caucasian (vs 49 % of applicants), 13% Black/African-American (vs 13% of applicants), 13% Asian/Pacific Islander (vs 6% of applicants), 6% from other communities of color (vs 5% of applicants). 50% of recipients identified as female, vs. 41% of applicants.

While AFS distributed $111,000 in cash and approximately $15,000 in goods and services this cycle, AFS readies to make more cash and in-kind awards available to filmmakers in 2020. Applications for the AFS Grant for Short Films—films 40 minutes or under—will open September 2. Recipients will be announced in December. More information here.

More about the AFS Grant:

AFS Grant recipients have shown their films at renowned festivals like Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Toronto, Venice, Tribeca, Rotterdam, and SXSW. Previous recipients have been nominated for Independent Spirit Awards (examples include Augustine Frizzell’s Never Goin’ Back; Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess, TW Pittman and Kelly Daniela Norris’ Nakom, Yen Tan’s Pit Stop and Heather Courtney’s Where Soldiers Come From) and won awards at top festivals such as Cannes, Sundance and SXSW (for example, Keith Maitland’s Tower, Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas’ Skip Day, Annie Silverstein’s Bull, Renée Zahn’s Reneepoptosis and Todd Rohal’s Rat Pack Rat). Channing Godfrey Peoples’ directorial debut, Miss Juneteenth, premiered in the US Narrative Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and opened nationally this June to widespread critical acclaim.

Filmmakers Kat Candler (13 Reasons Why, Queen Sugar, Hellion) and David Lowery (Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story) both received support for their work from the Austin Film Society Grant and are now among the donors to the AFS Grant fund. Lowery’s company, Sailor Bear, partners with several other organizations to provide AFS’s North Texas Pioneer Film Grant, including the Oak Cliff Film Festival, Ley Line Entertainment, and the Dallas Producers Association, a professional trade organization providing promotion, advocacy, education and networking for members. The North Texas Pioneer Grant has an emphasis on underrepresented perspectives and awards cash grants to emerging filmmakers from the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.

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. This year’s panelists included filmmakers Bette Gordon (Variety), Christina Choe (Nancy), film programmer Dilcia Barerra (Sundance), producers Elizabeth Avellán (Spy Kids), Ryan Zacarias (The Mountain), and Megan Gilbride (Tower). A diverse committee of filmmakers, film industry professionals and former AFS Grant recipients from Austin, Dallas and Houston act as first round reviewers, providing feedback and recommendations to the panel. This year’s grant was administered by AFS Head of Film & Creative Media Holly Herrick and Director of Programs Erica Deiparine-Sugars.

Cash grant partners include Sailor Bear, Ley Line Entertainment, the Oak Cliff Film Festival, and Dallas Producers Association on the North Texas Pioneer Film Grant. In-kind grants were provided by MPS Camera and Lighting and Stuck On On.

The AFS Grant is generously supported by the H-E-B Tournament of Champions in addition to grant partners Sailor Bear, Oak Cliff Film Festival, Dallas Producers Association, MPS Camera and Lighting, and Stuck On On.

The full list of 2020 recipients is below. Headshots and film stills can be found here.

Development recipients do not have accompanying descriptions)

North Texas Pioneer Film Fund Recipient:
Director: Lizette Barrera (Arlington)
Narrative Feature in Development

Director: Shadi Qutob (Austin)
Narrative Feature in Production
When Haya, a Pakistani Woman, creates a politically charged piece of fan-art of an iconic comic book character that goes viral, she realizes her newfound notoriety may be more than she bargained for. What was initially adoration slowly devolves into harassment, and eventually violence, as Haya is bombarded by hate from a fandom that is more toxic than she initially thought.

Director: Jeremy Rodgers (Taylor)
Documentary Feature in Post-production
FROM THE GROUND UP is the story of Daoud Nassar and his family of Palestinian farmers in the West Bank. Under constant threat of Israeli confiscation, the Nassar’s 100-acre farm is the centerpiece to an ongoing 29-year legal battle. As Daoud struggles to maintain the family’s ancestral homeland, the Nassars respond to injustice with creative, non-violent resistance. Committed to education, connecting people with the land and promoting respect for the “other” and our shared environment, Daoud and his family live by the motto: “We Refuse to be Enemies.”

New Texas Voices Grant
Director: Angela Chen (Austin)
Narrative Feature in Production
When Linh, a 42-year-old, Vietnamese American, recently-divorced mom impresses at a “twerkshop”, she is invited to join a 90s-inspired hip-hop dance team: the Fly Girls. A chubby Gen-Xer in a crew of thin Millennials, Linh must overcome her insecurities to prove she belongs. The New Texas Voices Grant is a $10,000 cash grant for a filmmaker identifying with a community of color who is making his or her first feature length film.

Director: Robie Flores (Eagle Pass)
Documentary Feature in Production
THE IN BETWEEN is a lyrical coming-of-age story woven from singular moments of a cast of characters living along the U.S.-Mexico border.

North Texas Pioneer Film Grant
Director: Clint Bentley (Dallas)
Narrative Feature in Post-production
JOCKEY tells the story of an aging jockey with failing health who tries to survive his final season on the racetrack and win one last championship. His dream is flipped upside down when a young jockey shows up on the track claiming to be his son.

Director: Kelly Daniela Norris (Austin)
Narrative Feature in Development

North Texas Pioneer Film Grant
Director: Christian Vasquez (Dallas)
Documentary Feature in Production
The power of storytelling, and its capacity to mend, is explored through the life and work of Dr. Njoki McElroy, a master storyteller, educator, and activist who has witnessed the United State’s failure to reconcile the wounds of racism and embodies the idea that sharing our stories places us on a path of healing and towards a reckoning with racial injustice.

Director: Ray Santisteban (San Antonio)
Documentary Feature in Development

Director: Ya’Ke Smith (Austin)
Narrative Feature in Development

Stuck On On Award
Director: Solomon Onita (Missouri City)
Narrative Feature in Distribution
After moving to the United States, nineteen-year-old Nigerian immigrant Dayo struggles to find a balance between his desire to join a college fraternity and bonding with his estranged father who is a strict pastor at a local church.

Director: Annie Silverstein (Austin)
Narrative Feature in Development

MPS Camera and Lighting Award
Directors: Alejandro Sescosse and Anna Veselova (Houston)
Narrative Feature in ProductionTLALOC is a phantasmagorical romance of digital illusions set in the near future where the threat to human life is existential worldwide due to the slow collapse of natural ecosystems.

Stuck On On Award
Director: Margaret Crow (Marfa)
Documentary Feature in ProductionThe UNTITLED CRIMINAL JUSTICE HIGH SCHOOL PROJECT follows a group of teenagers at a high school 10 miles from the US/Mexico border during their senior year and as they navigate what lies beyond.

Director: Kim Tran (Austin)
Narrative Feature in Development

AFS provided additional funding to filmmakers through the AFS/Stand With Austin Fund, a special fund established by the Austin Community Foundation to assist non-profits helping those most severely impacted by the cancellation of SXSW. This supplemental money has been made possible through the Foundation and AFS’s own Travel Grant funds to provide some relief and support to filmmakers with feature-length films that were to premiere at this year’s SXSW festival and lost considerable investment in their film’s promotion and premieres. Recipients include:


THE CARNIVORES by Caleb Johnson

GOOD OL GIRL by Sarah Brennan Kolb

ONE OF THESE DAYS by Bastian Günther



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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