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

(Film still from Rancho, directed by 2021 grant recipient Andrés Torres)

Brady Dyer, Communications Manager

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

Ten feature-length film projects and 14 emerging directors reflect the diversity and exceptional talent of Texas’ filmmaking community

September 7, 2021 (Austin, TX) — The Austin Film Society announces the 14 recipients of the 2021 AFS Grant for Feature Films, the annually renewed fund for emerging Texas filmmakers. AFS Grants provide vital resources to Texas-based independent filmmakers, creating life-changing opportunities for artists who are traditionally underrepresented in the film industry and working outside of large coastal industry centers. Intended to support career leaps for emerging to mid-career artists in Texas, the AFS Grant often launches the careers of filmmakers who have yet to be recognized by national funders. 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.

AFS CEO Rebecca Campbell commented on the AFS Grant:
“The cultural vibrancy of our region depends on artists’ ability to live and make innovative work here. Programs like the AFS Grant provide vital project funds in a landscape that has scarce opportunities for filmmakers to access capital equitably. We are fully committed to ensuring that filmmakers have the necessary support to sustain their careers, right here in Texas.”

Ten projects by 14 director applicants were selected for AFS Grant awards: five narrative features, four documentaries, and one animated feature. AFS funded projects in development, production and post-production. The applicants represent a geographically diverse group, with directors residing in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Allen, Katy, and Farmers Branch. Six projects will be debut features for the selected filmmakers.

AFS intends for the AFS Grant program to actively work against the structural racism and sexism in the screen industries. This grant cycle, female-identifying filmmakers make up 86% of the recipients, and separately, 85% of the recipients identify with a community of color. For the fourth year, AFS is proud to offer the New Texas Voices Award, a cash grant of $10,000 and industry mentorship, for a first-time filmmaker of color making a feature-length film. The 2021 recipient is Nicole Chi Amén with her new documentary work, Guián. AFS continues to partner with Ley Line Entertainment, David Lowery, and the Oak Cliff Film Festival to fund three debut feature projects by underrepresented north-Texas based directors through the North Texas Pioneer Film Fund (a special section of the AFS Grant program). More about the program below.

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. Past grantees include Channing Godfrey Peoples’ Miss Juneteenth, Annie Silverstein’s Bull, 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, Keith Maitland’s Tower, Renée Zahn’s Reneepoptosis, and Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas’ Skip Day; all Independent Spirit Award nominees or top award winners at Cannes, Sundance or SXSW. At SXSW 2021, four AFS Grant-supported filmmakers received top awards including Haley Anderson (Summer Animals, Winner, Texas Shorts), Mei Makino (Inbetween Girl, Audience Award for Visions category), Tamara Saviano (Without Getting Killed or Caught, Lone Star Award), and Renée Zahn (O Black Hole!, Special Jury Recognition, Texas Shorts).

Filmmakers David Lowery (The Green Knight, Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story) and Kat Candler (13 Reasons Why, Queen Sugar, Hellion) both received support for their work from the Austin Film Society Grant and are now among the donors to the AFS Grant fund. Lowery partners with the Oak Cliff Film Festival and Tim Headington’s Ley Line Entertainment to provide AFS’s North Texas Pioneer Film Grant, which awards cash grants to emerging filmmakers from the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. The grant has an emphasis on underrepresented perspectives. Recipient of a 2020 North Texas Pioneer Film Grant, Clint Bentley’s Jockey, made its world premiere and was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Candler is committed to amplifying female voices in film and supports female-identifying filmmakers through the AFS Grant.

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. Participants in this year’s panel process included filmmakers Merawi Gerima (Residue), Natalia Almada (El General) and film programmer Jessie Fairbanks (SFFILM Festival). 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. Reviewers included: producers Jennifer Bracy and Andrew Lee; artistic directors James Faust (Dallas International Film Festival), Jessica Green (Houston Cinema Arts Society) and Bart Weiss (Dallas VideoFest); film programmers Jim Kolmar and Jazmyne Moreno; filmmakers Daniel Laabs and Nina Vizcarrondo; and film critics Marisa Mirabal and Elizabeth Stoddard. This year’s grant was administered by AFS Head of Film & Creative Media Holly Herrick and Director of Programs Erica Deiparine-Sugars.

The AFS Grant is administered annually with two application periods and deadlines. The spring application, now closed, is for feature-length films. The fall cycle is for short films, 40 minutes or under in length, and is currently open for applicants. The 2021 deadline for short film projects is September 13 at 11:59 PM CST and awards will be announced in December.

Cash grant partners include David Lowery, Ley Line Entertainment, and the Oak Cliff Film Festival 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 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.

The full list of 2021 recipients is below. Headshots and a selection of stills can be found here.


North Texas Pioneer Film Grant
Director: Starling Thomas (Farmers Branch) and Jerod Couch (Dallas)
Documentary Feature in Production
Black Butterflies beams a light on the injustices of the for-profit prison industry, specifically how the criminal justice machine manipulates Black women. A wrongfully incarcerated filmmaker exposes the systematic oppression of an unjust system that rips matriarchs from the cocoon of their family ecosystem, inflicting generational trauma.

Director: Fatima Hye (Houston)
Narrative Feature in Production
An art horror anthology by Fatima Hye.

New Texas Voices Grant
Director: Nicole Chi Amén (Austin)
Documentary Feature in Post-production
This is an intimate film that follows the journey of a Costa Rican-Chinese granddaughter trying to connect with her deceased grandma, Guián, by searching for the home she abandoned from China when she emigrated to Latin America.

North Texas Pioneer Film Grant
Director: Paloma Hernández (Allen)
Narrative Feature in Production
A struggling art student inadvertently takes part in an art forgery scheme and stumbles into a world of corruption that tests her identity, moral boundaries and her true talents.

Stuck On On Award
Director: Andrés Torres (Austin)
Narrative Feature in Post-production
A former teenage actor returning home from the army encounters the vestiges of his family’s rancho, where he’ll have to cope with the guilt of running away after the deportation of his parents and best friend.

Director: Renée Zhan (Katy)
Animated Feature in Development
Fei Li is the best violinist the Lost Maples High School orchestra has seen in 50 years. She has a solid friend group, good grades, and a secret white boyfriend. Everything is going great for her until one day, a new girl, Mary Jung, transfers into her high school. Shit.

North Texas Pioneer Film Grant
Director: Kelsey Hodge (Dallas)
Narrative Feature in Production
Smile is a drama that follows Jules during the summer after returning home from the lowest point in her life: a failed suicide attempt. Clouded by her denial, Jules navigates a web of lies as she tries to figure out her relationship with her family, her friends, and ultimately her future.

MPS Camera and Lighting Award
Stuck On On Award
Director: Chelsea Hernandez (Austin) and Heather Courtney (Venice)
Documentary Feature in Production
In 2020, a fearless group of journalists seek to upend the white male status quo by launching an all-women and non-binary news start-up. Building a newsroom that reflects the women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ communities they’re writing about, The 19th* News could be a model in these changing times—if they can survive their tumultuous first years.

North Texas Pioneer Film Grant
Directors: Jazmin Diaz (Ft. Worth), Lizette Barrera (Arlington), Sharon Arteaga (Austin), Iliana Sosa (Austin), and Chelsea Hernandez (Austin)
Narrative Feature in Development
The Untitled Texas Latina Project is a narrative feature film exploring Latina/x identity in Texas through the lens of five Latina directors living and working in the Lone Star state. The film follows five Mexican-American women across various cities in Texas as they attempt to forge connections in familiar spaces while their identities are challenged.

Director: Iliana Sosa (Austin)
Documentary Feature in Post-production
After filmmaker Iliana Sosa’s grandfather, Julián, is told that he can no longer travel to the US to visit family, he begins building a new house in his rural Mexican hometown that he says will be for the whole family once he’s gone. What We Leave Behind follows Julián in the twilight of his life, as his granddaughter pieces together how their transnational family has built and rebuilt home across decades of separation.

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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