Austin Film Festival bounces back after pandemic

What to see at the fest. A strong lineup includes ‘The Whale,’ ‘Women Talking,’ ‘Armageddon Time,’ ‘Sam and Kate’ and a lot of documentaries


After two years of pandemic-related complications, the Austin Film Festival and Conference is back in full force this year — and in person — with a strong lineup of features, documentaries and screenwriting events.

The festival begins Oct. 27 and ends Nov. 3, with most screenings in downtown venues, like the Paramount and State theatres, with a notable satellite venue at the Galaxy Highland.

Badges and tickets can be purchased at Various levels of badges get you into a wide array of events. Individual tickets are also available.

The annual Film and Food Fundraising Party takes place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26 at the Fair Market venue in East Austin, a change from previous years at the Driskill Hotel. Badge pickup and registration has also changed from the Driskill to the Omni Austin Hotel Downtown, at 700 San Jacinto.

The following list of highlights is not comprehensive, but it’s an effort to point out some of the standout screenings that are coming up. The recommendations also overlook many daytime events at the conference, featuring the insights of screenwriters and filmmakers. Many more events may be of interest.

For more information, visit

The Whale
Brendan Fraser stars in “The Whale”

Thursday, Oct. 27

“The Whale” — This opening film, promises to be one of the hits of this year’s festival. Brendan Fraser, who has been out of the limelight for several years, stars as a gay English teacher who is severely overweight and trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. His role has been getting Oscar buzz since the movie’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival. The movie is based on the play by Samuel D. Hunter, and it’s directed by Darren Aronofsky, who will receive the festival’s Extraordinary Contribution to Film Award. Both Hunter and Aronofsky will be in attendance. “The Whale” co-stars Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins and Samantha Morton. 7:30 p.m., the Paramount.

“The Bystanders” — If you want to avoid parking hassles on opening night downtown, “The Bystanders” at the Galaxy might be a good option. The synopsis is as follows: “An off-the-wall sci-fi comedy set in the dimension of Bystanders. Invisible immortals who watch over their subjects and intervene in their lives, often not for the better.” It stars Seann Walsh, Scott Haran, Georgia Mabel Clarke and Andy Jacey. 9:15 p.m., Galaxy Highland, 6700 Middle Fiskville Road.

Friday, Oct. 28

A Conversation with Nikyatu Jusu: The 2022 Recipient of the New Voice Award. Jusu directs “Nanny,” her debut feature that won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize Award. Jusu will discuss her early short films and the process of making “Nanny.” Casey Baron moderates. 1:30 p.m., Central Presbyterian, Historic Sanctuary, 200 E. 8th St.

A Conversation with Darren Aronofsky. The director who is receiving the aforementioned award, talks with AFF executive director Barbara Morgan. Aronofsky wrote and directed 2017’s controversial “mother!,” with Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. He was nominated for a best director Oscar for 2010’s “Black Swan,” starring Natalie Portman. 3:15 p.m., the Stephen F. Austin Royal Sonesta Ballroom.

“Nanny” — The feature debut from director Nikyatu Jusu is described as a fable of displacement tinged with the supernatural. It stars Anna Diop as Aisha, a woman from Senegal who has come to New York to be the nanny for an unbalanced white couple (Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector). 6:45 p.m., State Theatre.

Sam & Kate
“Sam & Kate” stars Dustin Hoffman and Sissy Spacek, as well as their adult children, Schuyler Fisk and Jake Hoffman. Courtesy Vertical Entertainment.

“Sam and Kate” — This promises to be one of the hottest tickets at the festival. It’s the world premiere of writer/director Darren Le Gallo’s movie about love, age and facing the past. It stars Dustin Hoffman as Bill, the father old Sam, played by real-life son Jake Hoffman. When Sam returns to his small hometown to take care of an ailing Bill, he falls for a local woman, Kate, played by Schuyler Fisk. Meanwhile, Bill develops an attraction to Kate’s mother, Tina, played by Sissy Spacek, the real-life mother of Fisk. Le Gallo will attend the screening, along with the four stars. 7:15 p.m., Paramount.

“Armageddon Time” — James Gray writes and directs this semi-autobiographical tale about a young Jewish boy growing up in 1980s Queens. It’s described as a reflection on family, friendship and class. The cast is great: Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Anthony Hopkins and Banks Repeta. Gray will be receiving the festival’s Bill Wittliff Award for Screenwriting. 9:45 p.m., Paramount.

“Little Jar” — If you are an offbeat kind of festival-goer, you might want to get the film from Dominic Lopez a try. Here’s the way the festival programs describes the film: “When a misanthrope’s dream of isolation is realized, she learns the true value of connection when she befriends a dead mouse.” 9:50 p.m., Galaxy.

Saturday, Oct. 29

“Good Night Oppy” — Early buzz indicates this may be one of the festival’s standout movies. Writer/director Ryan White tells us about Opportunity, the rover that was sent to Mars for a 90-day mission but ended up having a 15-year journey, forging remarkable bonds with the robot’s humans back on Earth. 2:45 p.m.. Galaxy.

Dance Dads
Austin director Brook Harris premieres “Dance Dads”

“Dance Dads” — If you want to show a little love to Austin-based filmmaking, you might want to show up for this world premiere from Austin director Brook Harris. Here’s how the festival describes the film: “Reeling from a custody battle after his wife Karen files for divorce, Marco Mercury forms a single dads’ dance team. “The Marco Polos,” to rekindle his marriage and win back his family. 4:45 p.m., Rollins Long Center. Also, 2:45 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 3, Galaxy.

“Women Talking” — Writer/director Sarah Polley adapts the best-selling novel by Miriam Toews, following a group of women in a religious colony who struggle to reconcile their faith with a series of sexual assaults by men in their group. The cast includes Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley and Frances McDormand. It has been getting rave reviews after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Producer Dede Gardner will be this year’s recipient of the Polly Platt Award for Producing. 6:15 p.m., Paramount.

“The Inspection” — This is yet another buzzy title at the festival. Writer/director Elegance Bratton tells the story of a young, gay Black man who is rejected by his mother and decides to join the Marines. Although there’s deep-seated prejudice, the new Marine finds unexpected support and camaraderie. Jeremy Pope, Raul Castillo and McCaul Lombardi star. It was the opening-night film at the Toronto International Film Festival. 8:45 p.m., State Theatre.

Song of the Cicada

Sunday, Oct. 30

“Song of the Cicada” — This is probably one of the most charming, macabre, creepy documentaries you will ever see. Aaron and Robert Weiss follow the life of Dale Carter, embalmer extraordinaire. When he meets people, he says, he often wonders how many gallons of embalming fluid it will take to make them look good after death. He works for a Galveston funeral home and has a house filled with unusual, somewhat bizarre knick-knacks, including a portrait of Jeffrey Dahmer, which he keeps discreetly hidden upstairs in his two-story Victorian. He has also purchased the decrepit Hinchell Mansion in nearby Beaumont, and he hopes to restore it to its former glory. In one of the more bizarre moments, Carter dresses up as the former owner, Carolyn Hinchell, with flowing skirt, poofy blouse and custom wig, and gives tours of the various rooms. There’s also lots of behind-the-scenes footage in the embalming room. Carter’s sister Sheri Davis describe Dale as a child, encountering a dead animal: “If he couldn’t dissect it, he would pickle it.” 3 p.m., State Theatre.

“The Lost King” — The great Stephen Frears directs this tale of a woman who’s an amateur historian and decides to find the remains of King Richard III, which were lost for more than 500 years. The cast includes the equally great Sally Hawkins, as well as Steve Coogan and Harry Lloyd. 8:15 p.m., Paramount.


Monday, Oct. 31

“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” — Writer director Laura Poitras tells the story of activist Nan Golden, who fights to hold the Sackler family accountable for the opioid crisis. The movie is more thrilling than that description provides. It won the Golden Lion, the top prize, at the Venice Film Festival. 6:30 p.m., State Theatre.

“The Baker” — Jonathan Sobol directs Ron Perlman, Elias Koreas, Joel David Moore, Samantha Kaine and Harvey Keitel in this story about an elderly baker who goes to a big city to uncover clues about the disappearance of his estranged son. He’s also carrying a loaf of bread filled with high-grade heroin. 7:30 p.m., Paramount.

Tuesday, Nov. 1

“Turn Every Page: The Adventure of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb” — This documentary from Lizzie Gottlieb explores the 50-year relationship of Robert Caro and editor Robert Gottlieb as they race to complete their life’s work — the multivolume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. 7 p.m., Paramount.

Wednesday, Nov. 2

“Moon Garden” — Ryan Stevens Harris writes and directs this tale of a young girl who slips into a coma, encountering a dark and surreal underworld. 7:30 p.m., Paramount.

Thursday, Nov. 3

“Glass Onion” — As Detective Benoit Blanc, Daniel Craig travels to Greece to unravel a new mystery in this sequel to “Knives Out.” Edward Norton, Janelle Monae, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr. and Kate Hudson star. Rian Johnson writes and directs. 7:30 p.m., Paramount.

Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman.

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