Austin Film Festival & Writers Conference (AFF), the premier festival that champions the writers’ contributions to film, television, and new media, are proud to announce four distinguished awardees to be honored at this year’s festival from October 27 – November 3. Academy Award-winning producer Dede Gardner will receive AFF’s Polly Platt Award for Producing, Writer/Director/Producer James Gray being honored with the Bill Wittliff Award for Screenwriting, Emmy, BAFTA and Golden Globe winner Stephen Merchant will receive AFF’s Outstanding Television Writer Award, and writer/director Nikyatu Jusu, who will be receiving the 2022 New Voice Award.
Dede Gardner is an Academy Award-winning producer and co-president of the production company, Plan B Entertainment. Throughout her career she has produced both Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominated and winning films, including Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk and Moonlight, Adam McKay’s The Big Short and Vice, Ava DuVernay’s Selma, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave and Terrence
Malick’s Palme d’Or winner The Tree of Life. Gardner’s recent features include Gaz Alazraki’s Father of the Bride and Miranda July’s Kajillionaire, as well as the forthcoming features Blonde, She Said, Women Talking and Landscape With Invisible Hand. Her recent television releases include the HBO/Sky limited series “The Third Day,” created by Dennis Kelly, the Amazon Prime series “The Underground Railroad,” created by Barry Jenkins and “Outer Range” created by Brian Watkins.
In addition to accepting the Polly Platt Award for Producing during this year’s Writers Conference, Gardner will participate in a special screening of Women Talking. The new film by Oscar-nominated writer and director Sarah Polley. Based on the best-selling novel by Miriam Toews, Women Talking follows a group of women in an isolated religious colony as they struggle to reconcile their faith with a series of sexual assaults committed by the colony’s men. Polley will also attend the Festival to present Gardner’s award and participate in a post-screening discussion.
Writer/Director/Producer James Gray, who has written the screenplay for every major motion picture that he’s also directed, made his directorial debut in 1994 at the age of 25 with Little Odessa. The film received the Critics Award at the Deauville Film Festival as well as the Silver Lion in Venice. His second feature, The Yards (2000), started a career-long collaboration with Joaquin Phoenix and included Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Faye Dunaway, Ellen Burstyn and James Caan. Gray’s New York crime drama We Own The Night (2007) starred Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Eva Mendes and Robert Duvall.
His fourth feature, the Brooklyn-set drama Two Lovers (2008), premiered In Competition at Cannes and went on to receive a César nomination for Best Foreign Film in 2009. It received nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards for Best Director and Best Female Lead. In May 2013, The Immigrant, which starred frequent collaborator Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner, became his fourth film to premiere In Competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
Gray’s film The Lost City of Z was based on the best-selling novel by David Grann and starred Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland. It had its world premiere as the closing night selection of the 2016 New York Film Festival and was released in theaters by Amazon Studios/Bleecker Street in April 2017. Gray’s Academy Awards nominated space epic Ad Astra starred Brad Pitt and was released in theaters in September 2019 after its Venice Film Festival premiere.
Gray will be hosting a special screening during the Festival of his latest project, Armageddon Time – which he again wrote, directed, and produced – is a deeply personal project inspired by Gray’s own childhood growing up in 1980s New York City. The film stars Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong and will be released this fall by Focus Features.
Stephen Merchant is an Emmy, BAFTA and Golden Globe-winning actor, comedian, writer, director and producer and one of the most versatile talents in TV and film. He first
shot to prominence as co-creator (alongside Ricky Gervais) of BBC’s “The Office” and “Extras,” both of which were critically acclaimed, earning multiple comedy series awards, including three BAFTA Awards, two British Comedy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, and a Peabody Award. Merchant also served as an executive producer on the long-running US adaptation of “The Office,” which received five Primetime Emmy Awards and 42 nominations during its run on NBC. Merchant also received a British Comedy Award for “Best TV Comedy Actor” for his role in “Extras,” which he also co-created and executive produced alongside Gervais. In 2004, they won the “Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award” for the series. In 2013, he served as a star, co-creator, co-writer and director of HBO’s “Hello Ladies,” a sitcom based on his live stand-up show of the same name. The series ended with a feature-length HBO special and received two nominations at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards.
Merchant currently serves as creator, executive producer, writer, director and star of BBC/Amazon’s “The Outlaws,” which premieres its second season on August 5. He co-created the series with Elgin James, which follows a group of misfit lawbreakers in a community service group.
Writer/Director Nikyatu Jusu‘s short film SUICIDE BY SUNLIGHT: a project funded by Through Her Lens and sponsored by the Tribeca Film Institute and Chanel, made its debut at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, garnering a prolific festival run. NANNY is Jusu’s feature film debut and was selected for the 2019 Sundance Institute Creative Producing Lab, the 2019 IFP Project Forum, the 2020 Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Labs. NANNY won the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2022. Additionally, NANNY was one of 35 projects selected for the 2020 Creative Capital Awards, and shortlisted for The Black List 2020. In addition to filmmaking, Nikyatu is an Assistant Professor teaching fiction directing and screenwriting. AFF will screen NANNY, with Jusu in attendance for a special Q&A after the film.
ABOUT AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL:
Austin Film Festival (AFF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the art, craft and business of writers and filmmakers and recognizing their contributions to film, television, and new media. AFF champions the work of aspiring and established writers and filmmakers by providing unique cultural events and services, enhancing public awareness and participation, and encouraging dynamic and long-lasting community partnerships. AFF is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department and the Texas Commission on the Arts. All attendees and events are based on permitting schedules and are subject to change and/or cancellation without notice. Badges and passes are available for purchase here or by phone at 1-800-310-FEST.
ABOUT THE POLLY PLATT AWARD FOR PRODUCING:
Introduced in 2019, the Polly Platt Award is given to producers with a keen sense of story and who have a history of fostering new talent. Named after the legendary Polly Platt who was instrumental in the early years of Austin Film Festival and was an ardent champion of writers. Past award recipients include Stephanie Allain (2021) and Sarah Green (2019).
ABOUT THE OUTSTANDING TELEVISION WRITER AWARD:
Introduced in 2000, the Outstanding Television Writer Award highlights the artistic achievements and contributions of television creators and their importance in shaping the landscape of serialized storytelling. Past award recipients include David Chase (2000), Marta Kauffman (2016), Norman Lear (2015), and Keenen Ivory Wayans (2017).
ABOUT BILL WITTLIFF AWARD FOR SCREENWRITING:
Introduced in 1995, Austin Film Festival’s Bill Wittliff Award for Screenwriting has honored the leading storytellers of film, television, and new media. Past award recipients include Buck Henry (1997), Lawrence Kasdan (2001), Nancy Meyers (2016), and Tony Gilroy (2018).
ABOUT NEW VOICE AWARD:
Introduced in 2019, Austin Film Festival’s New Voice Award honors unique and captivating new voices in film, television, and new media. Past award recipients include Catherine Reitman (2019) and Channing Godfrey Peoples (2021).