By S. Pulse
Film talent from across the country gathered at Willie Nelson’s Luck Ranch on Friday to celebrate the Texas Film Awards. Attendees embraced the rural setting and the show’s suggested ‘ranch glam’ dress code. Stylish cocktail dresses were paired with cowboy boots. Bolo ties, cowboy hats, and western fringe were blended with formal wear and sequins. Celebrities, such as Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Margo Martindale, and Richard Linklater, walked the red carpet. The glitzy film industry crowd proved that they not only knew how to ‘cowboy up’, but also how to open their wallets by making generous donations to the event host, the Austin Film Society (AFS). AFS was founded in 1985 by local filmmaker Richard Linklater (he’s also the artistic director and is an acclaimed writer, director).
The Texas Film Awards honor “those who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of Texas film”. This year’s inductees to the honor roll included film industry powerhouse and CEO of Warner Brothers Pictures, Michael De Luca, beloved character actress Margo Martindale, rising actor Jonathan Majors, and the indie film production power couple of Janet and John Pierson.
The awards program was hosted by Edi Patterson of Righteous Gemstone fame. A native of Texas City, Patterson launched into a hysterical rant comparing the toxic environment of her refinery laden hometown to the beauty and open-minded outlook that she found upon moving to Austin in her 20s. Patterson went on to explain her relief when she found Austin to be a magical place full of “other weirdos who all wanted to play with her.”
Patterson’s feeling of the community and inclusion provided in Austin, was a sentiment repeated throughout the night and is a cornerstone of a new program created by AFS, called Creative Careers. A video was shared with attendees about the program which includes internships and training to underserved groups. AFS also provides grants to up and coming filmmakers and has distributed $2.5 million dollars in such funding. Filmmaker Amy Bench shared with the crowd how that funding made her award-winning short film about emigration, “More Than I Remember”, a reality.
Luke Wilson took to the stage to introduce Mike De Luca. Referencing the cut-throat nature of the entertainment business, Wilson opened with a quote from Hunter S. Thompson about the music business that he felt could also pertain to the film industry. “The business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There is also a negative side.” While this quote was met with large laughs from the crowd, Wilson went on to explain that the ruthless and competitive nature of the industry is even more accentuated at the top-tier executive level. As a result, studio heads tend to have decidedly short careers. Bucking this trend, honoree Mike De Luca has enjoyed an over 30-year career, largely because he is, according to Wilson, “as adept creatively as he is with the logistics and numbers of putting a film together and making it work.”
Margo Martindale was inducted by producer and writer Graham Yost, the creator behind “Justified” and “Sneaky Pete”; two productions that included Martindale. Instead of focusing on Martindale’s successful career or the fact that her film “Cocaine Bear” is currently the number one comedy, Yost used his time to praise Martindale’s amazing personal outlook as demonstrated by two tales involving Martindale as a young person. One story involved a torturous sounding device known as the Milwaukee Brace that Martindale endured from age 12-16 to resolve severe scoliosis. Instead of focusing on the hardships associated with wearing the brace, Martindale fondly recalls the supportive community at her school. She even found a silver lining emanating from the looks of pity she would receive claiming the experience made her look at people and consider what they were thinking; an insight that has served her well as a character actress. Yost also shared how a young Martindale took a summer job at the nearby “Rusk Home for the Criminally Insane”. While working there, Martindale organized a production of a play that involved the participation of a couple of notorious murderers. Several of these men came to hold Martindale in high regard because, as a choked-up Yost explained, “she treated them like human beings.” These two stories illustrate how Martindale’s curiosity and empathy for all people have served to fuel her success playing such a wide variety of roles; they also endeared Martindale to every member in the audience.
Jonathan Majors is presently riding a rapidly rising career comet. His current film Creed III opened the night of the ceremony to great acclaim. Filmmaker Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Hostiles) inducted Majors by presenting him with the Rising Star Award. As co-star Christian Bale noted, Majors “Has the power to move and inspire audiences in a way that is truly special.” Known for his time in Hollywood and his master’s degree from Yale, not everyone is aware that Majors grew up in Texas, largely in Cedar Hill. Majors shared with the crowd that after his career took off he came back to the state to take a break and renew himself before jumping back into the limelight of the film industry. If you want to see for yourself why Majors is garnering such positive attention, add “Hostiles”, “Lovecraft Country”, and “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” to your watchlist.
Independent film has largely benefited from the talents of Austin-based production couple of Janet and John Pierson. Director Kevin Smith (“Clerks”, “Chasing Amy”) introduced the Piersons saying that the couple have been “actual super heroes” to him. The couple are also big proponents of nurturing a supportive and “creative eco system”. Speaking at a panel discussion earlier in the day, the Piersons touted the importance of fostering not only actors and producers, but also as John said “all kinds of creative partnerships it takes to make a movie.”
That panel discussion was held on Friday morning at the AFS Cinema. Participants included De Luca, Martindale, the Piersons, and producer and founder of Get Lifted Film, Mike Jackson. Communities like AFS were noted for their positive impact on the industry with Jackson explaining “fellowship is king”. In addition to community, the panel spoke about the importance of funding and tax incentives to lure crews to Texas explaining that a lot of productions would want to come here if the money is right. Jackson elaborated on the desirability of Texas saying “Texas, as a whole, is a character itself.”
Other topics explored at the panel discussion included the pending writers’ strike (could impact industry as early as May), the need for promoting underrepresented voices (important sources for making innovative pictures), and how the pandemic altered release windows with the launch of PVOD (Paid Video On Demand, the timing associates with releasing this way depends on the picture, but it will continue to be a part of the release formula).
Overall, the Texas Film Awards were a successful event in terms of bringing together the state’s film community and its supporters. It also served as a lucrative fundraiser for AFS and the programs they support. Much like the evening’s theme of ‘Ranch Glam’, the event served to put on the ritz while still tending to the flock. If you’d like to know more about AFS or visit the newly built AFS Cinema film house, visit austinfilm.org.
Check out all our AFS photos from the events at Austin 101. Photo credit Stacey Lovett.