Austin Film Society announces 2021 grants for feature films

Program helps emerging filmmakers in Texas


The Austin Film Society announced Tuesday the 14 recipients of the 2021 AFS Grant for Feature Films, which each year helps fund emerging Texas filmmakers.

The grants are important for Texas filmmakers and have helped many Texas storytellers in getting a start.

“The cultural vibrancy of our region depends on artists’ ability to live and make innovative work here,” says Rebecca Campbell, the AFS CEO. “Programs like the AFS Grant provide vital project funds in a landscape that has scarce opportunities for filmmakers to access capital equitably.”

The grants this year are going to five feature documentaries, four narrative features and one animated feature. The directors of these films are geographically diverse, and they live in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Allen, Katy and Farmers Branch. Six of the projects will be debut features.

The aim of the grants is, in part, to counter the structural racism and sexism in the screen industries, the AFS says.

Here are the 2021 recipients.

“Black Butterflies,” directed by Starling Thomas of Farmers Branch and Jerod Couch of Dallas. It’s a documentary feature in development, focusing on the injustices of the for-profit prison industry. The documentary focuses on Black women who have been imprisoned. The project received the North Texas Pioneer Film Grant.

“Cryptic Triptych,” an art horror anthology from director Fatima Hye of Houston.

“Guian,” which gets the New Texas Voices Grant. The grant gives $10,000 to director Nicole Chi Amen, a first-tine filmmaker of color. She lives in Austin. The documentary follows the journey of a Costa Rican-Chinese granddaughter who is trying to connect with her deceased grandma.

“Pastiche,” directed by Paloma Hernandez of Allen, receives the North Texas Pioneer Film Grant. It’s a narrative feature about an art student who inadvertently takes part in an art forgery scheme.

“Rancho,” directed by Andres Torres of Austin. The narrative feature focuses on a former teenage actor who returns home form the Army and tries to cope with the knowledge that his best friend and his parents were deported while he was away. It gets the Stuck On On Award.

“She,” directed by Renee Zhan of Austin. The animated feature is in development and focuses on Few Li, a violinist at the Lost Maples High School orchestra.

“Smile,” directed by Kelsey Hodge of Dallas, gets the North Texas Pioneer Film Grant. The narrative feature is in production and follows Jules, who is coping with her failed suicide attempt.

The Untitled 19th* News Film, directed by Chelsea Hernandez of Austin and Heather Courtney of Venice. The documentary deals with a group of journalists who launch an all-women and non-binary news startup. The documentary is getting the MPS Camera and Light Award and the Stuck On On Award.

Untitled Texas Latina Project is getting the North Texas Pioneer Film Grant. The directors are Jazmin Diaz of Fort Worth, Lizette Barrera of Arlington, Sharon Arteaga of Austin, Iliana Sosa of Austin and Chelsea Hernandez of Austin. The narrative explores Latina/x identity in Texas through the lens of fie Latina directors.

“What We Leave Behind, or Lo Que Dejamos Atras,” directed by Iliana Sosa of Austin. The feature deals with Sosa’s grandfather, who is told that he can no longer travel to the U.S. to visit family. As a result, he begins building a house in rural Mexico that will help keep the family together once he’s gone.

Numerous partners of AFS help in the cash grants. They include David Lowery, Ley Line Entertainment and the Oak Cliff Film Festival, who donate to the North Texas Pioneer Film Grant. In-kind grants are provided by MPS Camera and Lighting and Stuck On On.

Other partners include Kat Candler, the City of Austin Economic Development Department/Cultural Arts Division and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

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

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