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The Texas-related movies at the Austin Film Festival may just be a hint of what’s to come

Actress Celestina Harris has her makeup touched up during the filming of "I'll Be There."
Courtesy of Tori McCarthy
Actress Celestina Harris has her makeup touched up during the filming of "I'll Be There."

There are dozens of film festivals around Texas each year. Some focus on specific genres – others on specific demographics. The Austin Film Festival is one of the largest.

Of the more than 180 films in its lineup, many have Texas ties.

From the documentary The Stars at Night by Central Texas filmmakers Betty Buckley and Ryan Sultemeier, which is about the mythology of the dark skies and the search for the Milky Way.

To narrative films like Egghead & Twinkie, described as a coming-of-age coming out movie. It features a Texas road trip and was written and directed by Austinite Sarah Kambe Holland.

The dark comedic thriller Don’t Tell Larry was created by Dallas-based filmmakers Greg Porper and John Schimke – and stars a few folks you might recognize, including Ed Begley Jr.

The fest also features well renowned Austin-based writer/director Jeff Nichols’ latest film: The Bikeriders – though it’s about a biker gang from the Midwest.

Then there are films like I’ll Be There, which takes place mostly in L.A. but was entirely shot in Austin.

“I was intrigued by the challenge of doubling Austin for Los Angeles,” Austin-based director Andrew Shea said.

The story is based on screenwriter and fellow Austinite Cindy McCreery’s real-life experiences.

“So the story was inspired by events in 2009 when my brother had bladder cancer, and it was during the same time that Michael Jackson died and his body was being autopsied next door at the USC Cancer Hospital in Los Angeles,” McCreery said.

When it came time to make the film, McCreery and Shea realized it was going to be better to stay close to home.

“And our entire crew was from Austin,” Shea said. “All the creative key department heads are Austin-based, and much of our cast is Austin-based as well.”

That’s in large part because Shea and McCreery reached out to former and current students. They’re both Radio-Television-Film professors at UT-Austin.

“We have this program – and for them to have more opportunities here instead of feeling like they have to leave their home state to work is also exciting,” McCreery said.

A still from the film “I’ll Be There” with stars Jasmine Batchelor and Ryan Cooper.
A still from the film “I’ll Be There” with stars Jasmine Batchelor and Ryan Cooper.

McCreery and Shea say Austin welcomed their production.

“It’s an easy place to work,” Shea said. “I’ve worked in Los Angeles. And in Los Angeles, you can walk into literally any store, any storefront, any office building anywhere at all. And they just hand you their location rate sheet; you know, everyone has a location rate sheet in Los Angeles, and it’s not really that way here. People are open to enjoying the involvement in a film, not just simply taking in as much money as they can possibly get from a location fee.”

“I did a call on a Facebook group for car collectors here in Austin, and people were thrilled to come out,” McCreery said. “They were so excited to show off their cars. And I think that that really says a lot about the kind of small-town feel, even though Austin’s a bigger city now, but it has that small-town feel where people really are excited to be a part of something.”

But if you’re looking for the most “Austin-y” film at the Austin Film Festival, that award might go to Home Free.

It too is based on a true story – one that New York-based writer Lenny Barszap and Austin-based director Aaron Brown experienced at UT in the 1990s.

“And this story was one that was really important to us. And it definitely, like I said, impacted our lives, and we have taken a lot from it,” Barszap said.

At the center of the story in “Home Free” is the unhoused former professor that begins to sleep on their front porch. But Barszap and Brown also wanted to make a fun, college comedy.

“Is it possible to make people laugh and have a good time and have a really fun college movie experience while also putting a spotlight on something that maybe we could all address and just help our neighbors?” Brown said.

They paired up with nonprofits to make the film and are now sharing 10% of the profits from the film to help the unhoused.

“I mean, never in my wildest dreams would I ever imagine that one of my heroes, Kevin Smith, would say that ‘Home Free,’ the movie that Lenny and I just made, is ‘The most important comedy you’ll see this year,’” Brown said.

And that blessing for “Home Free” is fitting.

“It was very inspired by ‘Clerks’ and ‘Dazed and Confused,’” Brown said.

A still from “Home Free.”
A still from “Home Free.”

Not only does “Home Free” look like it could be a sequel to “Dazed and Confused” – it was also shot in Austin with a majority Austin-based team – it also has an Austin soundtrack. Barszap says all that was intentional.

“And everyone we talked to, it was like, ‘Why are you making it in Texas?’ And we were like, ‘Well, because it’s our story and it’s our love letter to Austin, and it has to be in Austin.’ And everyone was like, ‘Go to any state that borders Texas, any of them. Make your movie there and, you know, you’ll get incredible incentives. And it just doesn’t make financial sense to make it in Austin,’” Barszap said.

They didn’t listen.

But “Home Free” and “I’ll Be There” and pretty much everything in the lineup of this year’s Austin Film Festival was produced or in production before Texas lawmakers passed a re-investment in incentives.

Shea says he’s excited for what’s likely to be a big wave of Texas film and TV ahead.

“I think the more support that we can offer filmmakers, the better,” Shea said. “You know, it’s a shame to be losing so much production to Louisiana and New Mexico and all kinds of other places. And, you know, the more opportunities filmmakers here in Austin and around the state have to stay home and make their work here, the better.”

That could mean film festival lineups with even more Texas-related films come this time next year.

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Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.