This week, we’re mourning the loss of our dear friend and true Texas legend Bill Wittliff. A brilliant creative mind and a fierce supporter of the arts, Bill made a name for himself as a screenwriter, photographer, author, publisher, and archivist, and his continued commitment to preserving our local creative community was unparalleled.
A champion of the Festival from year one, Bill Wittliff has been a cornerstone of our organization and without his longstanding support, AFF would not be what it is today. He was a true creative and a firm believer in the magic of storytelling, and we’re honored to have been a part of his story.
Here are some words of wisdom from our 25 years with revered writer and Texas hero Bill Wittliff:
WRITE FROM THE HEART
Great writing is not something you can intellectualize on. It is something that is first felt. It is why great art, great writing, great music translates all over the world across all borders, all languages…and I believe it’s because the sender was able to reach in his guts and send it, and I think that is what great art is. Great art sets up a series of posts, and it sets them up just the right distance apart so that the audience, the viewer, the listener, the reader makes the jump. It never tell us anything—it allows us to tell ourselves something we needed but we didn’t know we needed.
PUT YOUR STORY FIRST
The allegiance as a writer you have to your screenplay is to the story you’re telling. If a particular story needs more description…then you owe it to your story to be that descriptive. If not, then don’t waste time with it. You need just enough so that you snare the reader, so they are comfortable in that world, they understand it and that they can go with the story. Settings are a buttress for your story, but they’re not your story.
LET IMAGINATION TAKE THE REIGNS
It’s not the will who’s my friend, it’s the imagination. It’s exactly the opposite of the will, which is trying to force things into small holes. The imagination is just—open all the doors, all the windows. Let it come in. Put it down. You can always come back on it…and when you can reach that state where you can disappear into your work, that’s when you really understand that it’s truly magic.
NEVER STOP WRITING
Writers write. When it’s good they’re glad and they keep writing and when it’s bad they throw it away and they keep writing. I simply don’t know what is more honest about writing than that. You take care of your writing and somehow, your writing takes care of you.
The Festival has afforded me so many great moments over the years. Being in the presence of deft storytellers is its own kind of cinema, where mundane life experiences run through the filter of the observer and bard of sorts, often become grand theater, and I have had the fortune to be in the front row many times. It’s mesmerizing to be in the company of such folks.
My friend, Bill Wittliff was a master in this realm. The campfire was his office. Visiting Bill there with a cup of hot chocolate, a cookie, and a treat for one of his beloved dogs was a pretty amazing ticket to score for such little scratch. Time was transcended once he started talking about the book he was writing, or an artist he was collecting, and sometimes it was just a pure bull*%#! session, but what a prize bull it was. Bill was a storyteller with his camera too and perusing his infinite collection of solargraphs and pinhole photos would mean a swift flight of hours. He was perpetual creativity.
Bill opened his door to me in 1993 when we first announced we were doing a writers festival. Meeting the man who made LONESOME DOVE incarnate was beyond thrilling, but what struck me immediately about Bill was his warmth and humor and, astonishingly, his inclusiveness. And in 26 years I never saw that spirit waiver. He was a dear friend, a champion of artists, a raconteur and sometimes even a Dutch uncle. Spiritual, generous, and always encouraging, Bill wanted to know what new creative prospect you were mulling and he could really kick you in the seat of the pants to inspire you forward. He was an artist who not only shared his craft, but willed others to share theirs as well. His talent and zeal were, in fact, contagious.
Many times I heard Bill talk about giving people the courage to create. And, boy, did he. Festival after festival Bill counseled new writers and spoke to the students in our film programs. What luck to have landed on Bill’s doorstep and even greater fortune to have become his friend. Though I am deeply saddened that Bill will no longer be creating, his legacy continues to inspire at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, and of course through the myriad of artists and storytellers whom Bill sparked and mentored through his own creative courage. La Vida Brinca, ole pal…
Executive Director of Austin Film Festival