Austin Film Society Announces the 2021 AFS Grant for Short Films Recipients

(Still from THE LAST HAWAIIAN SUGAR by Dèjá Cresencia Bernhardt)

Brady Dyer, Communications Manager

Austin Film Society Announces Recipients of the
2021 AFS Grant for Short Films

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

December 20, 2021 (Austin, TX) — The Austin Film Society is proud to announce ten recipients of the 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 million in cash grants to over 400 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. Eight projects by ten director applicants were selected from 125 applicants: seven narrative shorts and one documentary short. Seven of the ten 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. MPS Camera and Lighting Austin granted an in-kind multi-day camera package rental to one project, Sharon Arteaga’s IN TOW. The Harrison McClure Endowed Film Fund awards cash funds to one undergraduate student project as a part of the AFS Grant for short films. This year’s recipient is A HAUNTING ACROSS THE GALAXY, directed by Edwin Oliva.

AFS Director of Programs Erica Deiparine-Sugars said, “With our awards, we champion the short film form and are honored to be able to support these projects each year. It is beyond gratifying to know that several of the filmmakers in this funding cycle will be receiving grants from AFS for the very first time. It underscores the very purpose of our grant program—to support and elevate the incredibly diverse voices of our region’s emerging filmmakers and help them share their stories with Texas and the world.”

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 José Rodriguez, programmer at Tribeca, Amanda McBaine, documentary filmmaker and producer (BOYS STATE, MAYOR PETE, THE OVERNIGHTERS), and Cecilia Mejia, producer (YELLOW ROSE, CALL HER GANDA, and LINGUA FRANCA). 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: producers Jennifer Bracy, Hillary Pierce, and Samantha Rae Lopez; film programmers Casey Baron, Jean Anne Lauer, Neha Aziz, Parker May, Christian Nelson, and Michael Robinson; filmmakers Huay-Bing Law, Maya Perez, Meghan Ross, Ryan Darbonne, Michael Rowley, Tia Williams, and Elizabeth Purchell; and the Houston Film Commission’s Alfred Cervantes. This year’s grant was administered by AFS Director of Programs Erica Deiparine-Sugars.

“It was really incredible to see the depth of stories and content that came through. It was difficult to really narrow down the list because there was so much talent and everyone deserved to be recognized in some way. I’m inspired by these storytellers and really in awe of how supportive AFS is of independent film,” panelist Cecilia Mejia said of this year’s short film projects.

Fellow panelist José Rodriquez added: “Shorts filmmaking is a thriving and compelling art form, and a testament to powerful and incisive storytelling was palpably witnessed in the selected Austin Film Society shorts. I was thrilled to have been invited to review and consider these projects.”

Some of AFS’ 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 (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, Director’s 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. At this year’s SXSW 2021, two AFS-supported filmmakers received top awards for their short films—Haley Anderson (Summer Animals, Winner, Texas Shorts) and Renée Zhan (O Black Hole!, Special Jury Recognition, Texas Shorts).

This year’s projects reflect the organization’s commitment to funding exceptional artistic voices that often come from backgrounds traditionally under-represented in the film industry and aims to actively work against the structural racism and sexism in the screen industries. This grant cycle, female-identifying filmmakers make up 80% of the recipients, and separately, 70% of the recipients identify with a community of color.

The full list of 2021 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 2022.

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.


Director: Edwin Oliva, Austin
Harrison McClure Endowed Film Fund Grant
Arkie, an alien archeologist, is on a quest to retrieve a living souvenir from Earth but has trouble capturing an uncooperative ghost.

Directors: Paloma Martinez, Humble
Abby Ellis, Park City, Utah
When 26-year-old Jovany Mercado was shot and killed during a mental health crisis on his own driveway by Ogden, Utah police, his family’s life was forever transformed. Reeling from the pain of his son’s death and fearing for the safety of his remaining family, Juan, Jovany’s father, turns their home into a digital fortress against the police.

Director: Sharon Arteaga, Austin
MPS Camera and Lighting Austin Production Services Award
A self-involved teen and her overworked, single mom come to a head with their differences as their mobile home is repossessed … with them inside of it!

Director: Dèjá Cresencia Bernhardt, Austin
12-year-old Nua makes peace with the mixed emotions she has about the land she lives on when she learns the sugar plantation she calls home will be closed forever.

little trumpet
Director: Megan “Megz” Trufant Tillman, Austin
A nine-year-old loner wants his brother to teach him how to play the trumpet. In the 7th Ward of New Orleans, that’s not so simple.

Director: Tay Mansmann, Austin
After discovering a surreal camera obscura built into an abandoned crop house, two queers at a crossroads in their relationship must overcome projections of their deepest desires and fears made manifest by their perverted scarecrow doppelgangers.

Directors: Iris Diaz, El Paso
Alejandra Aragón, Juaréz, Mexico
Two friends search for a place to skate in a city that is not designed for skateboard wheels nor their bodies or dreams.

Director: Katy McCarthy, Austin
A conservative Texas state senator struggles with his anti-abortion stance after being kidnapped and surgically connected to a violinist whom he must keep alive with his own body for nine months.

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.

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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