My time programming AFF’s Conference was more or less a whirlwind. I learned just how quickly time could pass, just how quickly bonds could be formed, and just how quickly the film landscape could change.
Over the course of five years, I worked with innumerable talents – minds etched out of stories, hearts that beat with creative fervor. The Conference has a soul all its own because of the incredible artists who inhabit it.
But there was one individual I met who was exceptionally special. A gentle man who had somehow managed to be wholly rooted in genuineness and generosity; a being who proved that kindness and integrity and authenticity are possible in a cutthroat business. Jonathan Demme was a breath of fresh air for all who had the privilege to cross paths with him.
Jonathan agreed to accept the Extraordinary Contribution to Film award in January of AFF’s 20thanniversary. Leading up to the festival, he spent the better part of the year pitching ideas to champion aspiring filmmakers and storytellers. During the four-day period he was in Austin, he had a hand in programming almost a dozen panels and films that shined the spotlight on others.
In the halls of the Driskill Hotel, it seemed everyone had a story about how he had influenced their own careers.
In the crowds forming around him after each event, Jonathan shook every hand, listened to every story, took every business card.
In the awards ceremony where new writers were receiving their first major recognition, Jonathan beamed for them, tears forming in his eyes.
There’s no denying his monumental impact on the film world, or the integrity and magnificence of his work. But what was most spectacular about Jonathan Demme was his personal integrity and magnificence. The light and radiance in Demme’s films were projected from within, and the world is a little dimmer without him.
I once again am confronted with how quickly time can pass, how quickly bonds can form, and how quickly the film landscape can change.
But I find solace in the fact he lives on through the work he so masterfully left behind, and in the hearts of all he so graciously touched. May we all strive to live as fully and authentically as Jonathan Demme, and vow to spend this somber afternoon dancing to the Talking Heads and Neil Young in his honor.
– Erin Hallagan (AFF Board Member & former Creative Director)