Hi, my name is Sage Kosiorek. This is my first year as Director of Script Competitions and what a ride it has been so far. The task of stepping into a role like this amid the whirlwind the world is enduring at the moment has been quite the test, but thankfully the community surrounding Austin Film Festival has been incredibly welcoming and supportive. Its community was indeed the reason why I signed on as a volunteer in 2016, and why I got hooked on what many call The Festival Experience.
Now, The Festival Experience as a volunteer is very different than what it’s like as a staff member, and what I imagine it’s like as an attendee, but there are common threads among each: the excitement, exhaustion, late-night conversations, and general emotional intensity. Last year, as a staff member, one night on the weekend before the Festival started, a co-worker and I had been up late working in our temporary office off of 6th street. This was an old, two-story building that had a lot of open space and a hollowed-out elevator shaft on the second floor, which looked like it was last functional in the 1800s. What was strange about this elevator shaft was that if you were standing right below it on the first floor, you’d never know there was one right above you; the second floor covered what probably used to be a hole between the two floors. Anyway, my co-worker and I had our temporary desks set up near this empty shaft on the second floor and that night, dead-quiet, except for the low buzz of the fluorescent bulbs above us and the rapid tapping from our keyboards, we heard a rising hum that quickly turned into a high note. At first, I’d thought it was a video my co-worker had played aloud on his computer, but when I turned to see what it was, he was looking at the old elevator shaft. He then looked at me scared, but curious. There was nothing there. We waited quietly for a several moments, but the sound didn’t return.
Two days later, having been able to leave earlier the night before, another co-worker mentioned they were up late on the second floor and suddenly a notebook from one of the temporary desks flew off and hit the ground several feet away. It wasn’t long after that everyone on staff had begun talking about how our temp office was haunted. It was mostly a joke because no one seemed to really believe it, but it set a good mood leading into the Festival.
I was never a believer in ghosts, but that was the first ghost-esque experience I’d had that I couldn’t explain.
Fast-forward to the closing night of the Festival. It’s Halloween. At the State theater a live podcast called, “A Night of Ghost Stories presented by The Night Owl Podcast” was being recorded live. Had they heard of our encounters? Turns out, they had! I entered the temp office after getting dinner, stopping by to drop off some stuff before the closing night party, and there on the second floor was the whole Night Owl Podcast crew interviewing someone on staff about the encounters they’d experienced. They stopped me and I told them about the night I’d heard the sound coming from the elevator shaft. After the interview, the host had mentioned they were going to do some monitoring of the space after they finished interviewing everyone.
I wish I could tell you we discovered where the sound came from, but in hindsight, it was probably mere hallucinations due to the extreme doses of excitement and exhaustion we had received. The same excitement and exhaustion that volunteers and attendees talk about. While the ghosts might not have been real, the random encounters and unbelievable stories that stemmed from what we all call The Festival Experience certainly were. And this is why many of us return year after year, anticipating more unexpected magic.