We are excited to announce that Hiscox Insurance will return again this year as a sponsor of our 25th Anniversary! As we celebrate the continued partnership we are taking the opportunity to look back on some of the highlights of Hiscox’s involvement with the Austin Film Festival and look forward to our future involvement as they help us continue to celebrate risk-taking creators, cutting-edge filmmaking and encourage courage in the cinematic arts.
Audience Award Screening Series – We wrapped another successful Audience Award Screening Series; here is a recap of this year’s series:
2017 Dark Matters Audience Award Winner: The Landing – Screened February 1st at the Alamo Drafthouse Village
In 1973 the United States’ manned space program experienced an extraordinary tragedy – an event that, despite its place as one of the most disturbing episodes of the space race, was nevertheless all but ignored during the emerging Watergate scandal that ultimately claimed Richard Nixon’s presidency. Interviews with witnesses and participants, conducted on the 25th anniversary of the incident, reveal new layers of a mystery that continues to obsess investigators and which nearly destroyed an American institution. This conspiracy heavy, faux-doc becomes more compelling the further we venture into the age of fake news. Co-Writer Mark Dodson and actor Jeff McVay attended the screening and answered some questions afterwards…
*2017 Comedy Vanguard Audience & Jury Award Winner: Don’t Talk to Irene – Screened February 13th at the Alamo Drafthouse Village
Irene wants nothing more than to be a cheerleader. Her idol, Geena Davis, convinces her to risk it all and try out. This leads to an unexpected situation that lands her a suspension and a two-week community service stint at a retirement home. Tapping into her passion for cheerleading, Irene secretly signs up the senior residents to audition for a talent-search reality show to prove that you don’t need to be physically ‘perfect’ to be perfectly AWESOME. Writer/Director Pat Mills took home the Best Comedy Screenplay Award in 2013 for this script and recently landed himself a spot on Moviemaker Magazine & Austin Film Festival’s 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2018. Mills was in attendance at the screening and took a few questions afterwards. The conversation that ensued went everywhere from Mills’ inspiration for the story (with a nod to Todd Solondz wonderfully dark, Welcome the Dollhouse), to Toronto-based Senior-only dance groups (no one under 65 need apply), and the extensive hunt for a leading woman that won the film a great performance from charming newcomer Michelle McLeod. But I am going to stop myself there, to give too much away would be a crime. You can hear the conversation for yourself on the On Story Radio Episode: Indie Films: Transformer, Don’t Talk to Irene & Mr. Fish.
*2017 Documentary Feature Audience & Jury Award Winner: Transformer – Screened April 10th at the Alamo Drafthouse Village in partnership with aGLIFF
In the summer of 2015, former US Marine and world record weightlifter Matt Kroczaleski was publicly outed as transgender. The reaction was universal: her sponsors abandoned her, she was disowned by her parents, and banned from competing. Now Janae, she must find her place in society, unable to lose the muscle she once so desperately gained and living one day as an alpha male and the next day as a delicate girl. Will Janae’s passage from being a male bring the peace she’s looking for? This compelling documentary, which took home both the Audience and Jury awards for Documentary Feature in 2017, is an important addition to the ongoing conversation surrounding the place of gender norms in our rapidly changing society as well as the struggle of transgender individuals. Janea Kroczaleski herself as well as writer/director Michael Del Mote attended the screening and participated in a powerful Q&A session afterwards. The film was recently acquired by Gravitas Ventures for distribution to share Janae’s story. You can hear the conversation for yourself on the On Story Radio Episode: Indie Films: Transformer, Don’t Talk to Irene & Mr. Fish.
2017 Narrative Feature Audience Award Winner: Beauty Mark – Screened May 1st at the Alamo Drafthouse Village in partnership with the Center for Child Protection
In rural Kentucky, Angie finds herself in dire straits. Young, poverty-stricken, and tasked with taking care of both her five-year-old son and alcoholic mother, Angie and her family are forced out of their house after discovering it has been condemned. Without a place to call her own and $65 to her name, she must find a place to stay and the money to pay for it. With desperation building and with nowhere else to go, Angie turns to the only person she knows who can help: the man who abused her as a child. Harris Doran’s confrontational indie feature is more than deserving of a second screening. From Doran’s steady direction to lead actress Auden Thornton’s fantastic performance as a woman who must care for both her mother and son while dealing with the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. Beauty Mark is a film that stays with you long after the credits roll.
2017 Documentary Feature Audience Award Winner: Mr. Fish Cartooning from the Deep End – Screened June 5th at the Alamo Drafthouse Village in partnership with Texas Observer
Having found success creating compelling, and often, adult-themed editorial cartoons, Mr. Fish may be the last great American outlaw artist. However, his profession is on the way out. Editors previously willing to back controversial work are disappearing as fast as the newspapers which once employed him. Undeterred, Mr. Fish meets his plight head-on and with an abundance of creative energy, but the demands of raising a family overtake his freelance opportunities, and Mr. Fish is forced to make devastating choices. This documentary follows the artist as he struggles to stay true to his creativity in a world where biting satiric humor has an ever-diminishing commercial value. Both the director, Pablo Bryant, artist, Mr. Fish, and his wife Diana Day were in attendance at the screening and a Q&A followed afterward. The conversation focused on the struggles of making art that purposefully defies the wants of the market as well as how Bryant followed the story of Mr. Fish through making the documentary, and how the artist Mr. Fish keeps in touch with his inner class clown while also striving to have his message taken seriously. You can hear the conversation for yourself on a recent On Story Radio Episode: Indie Films: Transformer, Don’t Talk to Irene & Mr. Fish.
Hiscox Courage Award
In addition to sponsoring the Audience Award, Hiscox Insurance created a Courage Award back in 2015. Voted on by the audience, the Hiscox Courage Award is presented to the film that best embodies the virtue of courage and to the filmmaker who best embraced the risk to share the story.
2015 Winner – Until 20 by Jamila Paksima which tells the story of 13 year old James as he and those around him must deal with an osteosarcoma diagnosis. His response, to do one good thing a week. Until 20 is an inspiring tale of courage and strength in the face of horrible tragedy.
2016 Winner – Documentarian Frank Stiefel’s Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405. After qualifying at the Austin Film Festival the short went on to win an Academy Award® thanks to its emotional story and the well-crafted way it is told. The film explores how artist Mindy Alper’s psychologically powerful and emotionally honest work allowed her to emerge from a previously dark and isolating life. The film is not only courageous in its telling but explores a subject whose art navigates some of the darkest territories of depression, anxiety, and mental illness.
Another deserving winner, 2017 awardee Dominic Gill’s Coming to My Senses, a documentary chronicling the trials of a man determined to learn how to walk again after a motocross accident leaves him paralyzed from the waist down.
Hiscox Insurance gives filmmakers an additional outlet to share their stories each year with their Hiscox blogs, featured on the AFF website and on social media. These short form conversations provide insight into the creative process of the many talented and thought-provoking filmmakers who make their way through the Austin Film Festival. Outstanding interviews such as with Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, the writer/producer behind the remarkable documentary Mankiller. Mankiller tells the unforgettable but often overlooked story of Wilma Mankiller, a towering figure in the struggle for Native American civil rights and the first woman to be elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. In the interview, Red-Horse Mohl tells the story of how the film came together and what an act of courage it was to make the film saying, “[I] was drawn to her legacy as a truly positive example that our current leaders need to see and understand. Although I had no idea when we started this project in 2011 that the world would evolve to such a sad place of divisiveness and negativity in politics, it truly seems as if Wilma’s message is being seen and heard through this film at a time when her voice is sorely needed”.
Check out our first filmmaker blog from Speaking In Tongues writer/director Nathan Deming! Be on the lookout for a new blog each week!
Hiscox Insurance also provides us with important information, take a look at their recent survey: Over Half of Media and Entertainment Firms Experienced Three or More Cyber Attacks over a 12-Month Period
Looking back on all that our partnership with Hiscox has allowed us to bring to the festival, the filmmakers, and the community we are looking to the future at the ways in which, working together, we can allow the voices of artist, filmmakers, and producers, willing to take risk in their craft, be heard.