My name is Colin Hyer, I’m Austin Film Festival’s Creative Director. Although my entire existence revolves around working with and supporting writers– a writer I am not. So please bear with me on this post…
I’ve been asked to share a Festival memory. I’ve been working for the festival for 5 years now, so it’s difficult for me to select just one memory to share, but here goes nothing.
My favorite Festival memory is from the 2017 Awards Lunch. This event each year solidifies for me exactly what AFF is all about. For those of you who have not yet attended the awards lunch, it’s a lunch dedicated to both our Festival awardees and our competitions winners. It’s a very special event where the contributions of both seasoned and aspiring writers are acknowledged together.
My first year programming the Writers Conference was in 2017. That year we had the privilege to honor Keenen Ivory Wayans, Kenneth Lonergan, and Walter Hill. A trio of amazing writers that seemed to lack any semblance of connection outside of their talent. Not an issue for our festival programming but something that was in the back of my mind as the person responsible for the cohesion of the conference.
It all started when one of the winners of our competitions was announced. When he made it to the podium, he was clearly nervous and at a loss for words – sitting directly in front of him was Robert Rodriguez. The winner went on to describe how meaningful this experience was for him because Rodriguez’s book, Rebel without a Crew, was the book that made him want to be a filmmaker. This moment, while nice, is the what you’d expect at an awards ceremony – a young, up-and-coming writer paying respect to a celebrated filmmaker.
The chain of events that happened next was out of the ordinary.
Robert Rodriguez joined the lunch because Robert Townsend’s (who was presenting Keenen Ivory Wayans’ award) Hollywood Shuffle had been hugely inspirational in jumpstarting his career. Rodriguez got on stage and spoke about how Townsend’s film showed him that he could be a director and that he could go out and make something on his own without anyone’s permission. Townsend then got up and spoke about his friend Keenen Ivory Wayans and how Wayans was not only his major inspiration but the very person who pushed him to take risks early on.
Then Townsend started talking about Walter Hill.
Unbeknownst to me or anyone else at the lunch, he launched into a story about the time he was an extra on Walter Hill’s 1979 masterpiece The Warriors. This, we learned, was Townsend’s first time on a film set, and he used the opportunity to watch Hill direct – paying close attention to how he worked with actors and led the crew. Being an extra under Hill was his first exposure to what it meant to be a director. Townsend even brought a photo! A large group shot of the entire Warriors crew, with Hill in the center, and a small, younger Townsend at the bottom of the frame.
To close the loop each awardee that day got up and thanked the writers in the competition. Being surrounded by the next generation of storytellers had inspired each of them and reminded them of what it was like when they were starting out.
Everyone on staff at the festival often struggles to communicate exactly what our events are like to those who haven’t attended. It’s hard to describe the experience and feeling of AFF, but that lunch in 2017 is the closest I can come to showcase exactly what our festival is about. Great writing influences future great writing. We like to bring the writer community a little closer together both for acknowledgement and praise, and so writers can get together to develop the next big idea. Writers, at every stage, learn from each other.
See you at this year’s lunch,