Made in Texas: Tribute to Austin Film Society 

I’m proud to say that the film society was spawned by a loose coalition of freaks – asocial punks of various ages who wanted to live cinema and believed the only world that really mattered was the one that existed when the lights went down and the projector rolled.


Richard Linklater, 2005

Deep in the heart of Texas, Austin, once a sleepy college and government town, unexpectedly became a crossroads for American music and film. First came a new era of musicians, Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson among them, who played to mixed houses of cowboys and hippies. Then came the punk clubs and, with them, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Slacker (1991). What followed were the emerging careers of hundreds of filmmakers that live and work in a state boasting a vibrant film culture that incubates artists on the leading edge. The Austin Film Society has nurtured the ecosystem that makes Texas a third home for filmmakers and film art in the United States, a place where artists, unique voices, and artistic freedom – rather than the industry – are setting the tone.

Today, AFS is an unusual organization, especially as far as film societies go. AFS operates a production facility called Austin Studios; runs filmmaking education programs for all ages at a dedicated community facility; provides grant funding to filmmakers all over the state of Texas; hosts Texas premiere screenings and the Texas Film Awards, an annual gala event celebrating Texas’ greatest successes in film and television; and operates a two-screen art house theater (a second home to local filmmakers) with programming that runs the gamut from new international film releases, niche festivals, and classic auteur film to the most obscure selections of independent, genre, and underground film. AFS is at the center of Austin’s unique and unusual film culture. It is the product of years of evolution, growth, and change.

A confluence of forces would lead to Austin developing the homegrown artists and film community it knows today. In the briefest of terms, we can credit the rise of Austin’s alternative music scene, the growth of the film program at the large state university located in Austin, The University of Texas, and a few artists who took advantage of the vibrant bohemian youth culture to start experimenting with film. The first notable effort was in the late 1960s, when Tobe Hooper gathered a group of friends and some University-owned film equipment to make his first feature Eggshells (1969) and a few years later the legendary Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

UT’s student-run film society, CinemaTexas, was fertile ground for the crossover between film experimentation and the punk, new wave, and indie rock scenes of Austin in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Jonathan Demme, who visited Austin in 1981 specifically to experience the music scene, stumbled upon the unique interplay between music and film when Louis Black, the editor of the alternative weekly paper The Austin Chronicle (and later a founder of SXSW), introduced him to some recent work by local filmmakers. Demme commented, “The really startling thing […] given the chance to view several top-notch Austin-made films in the course of my brief trip there, was the exciting discovery of the epic fusion between Austin film and Austin music. For as it turns out, the majority of these short movies were made by the very same music people whose work had lured me down there in the first place. Maybe more than any place else, the potential creative cross-fertilization of new music and new cinema has found a breeding ground in Austin.”

Demme, already a big name in film at that time, subsequently organized a screening of Made in Texas shorts in New York City at the Collective for Living Cinema, the go-to downtown hub for New York’s emerging indie filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch and Todd Haynes. After the series made headlines in New York, it was programmed closer to home, in Houston, TX. The shorts were a revelation for Houston-based aspiring director Richard Linklater. He hadn’t seriously considered Austin’s potential as a town where he could begin his study of filmmaking, and the shorts were a beacon for Austin’s nascent film hive.

Richard Linklater arrived in Austin at exactly the moment when film culture winds were shifting due to the advent of video and the decline of some of the formerly vibrant film spaces. There was room for an energetic youth-driven cinema movement to be born among the same people who were going to punk and new wave shows, the people that Richard Linklater would collaborate with and immortalize in a few years in his break-out feature film Slacker. Richard had a plan: What if he and some friends started a screening series and charged $2-$3, enough to pay for the print fees and shipping of films that they couldn’t see otherwise? In order for the scheme to work, they needed a hook. Their first program would be called Sex, Blasphemy, and the Avant Garde – a program of provocative experimental films that would draw just the right crowd of outsider insiders. They negotiated with a local indie theater as a venue and started papering the campus with handmade xeroxed flyers. When the line to get into the show wrapped around the building that night, the Austin Film Society was born.

In the beginning this was AFS – a loose assembly of young “film freaks” (Linklater’s words) who wanted to get their hands on work ranging from Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage to Orson Welles and Robert Bresson. Boosted by the promotional efforts of The Austin Chronicle, which was run by the same dedicated cinephiles who had been a part of CinemaTexas, the society had the benefit of a powerful megaphone. After roving around campus area cinemas for a few years, the group found its own space, previously home to a psychedelic-themed ice cream parlor called Nothing Strikes Back. Though film was at the center, the new hang out was a magnet for all creative types. The new Austin Media Arts space would host in equal measure Russian avant-garde film series and events like an Andy Warhol Factory Party, complete with 998 boxes of Brillo Pads, borrowed from the stockroom of a local grocery store.

Austin Media Arts only lasted for a few years, but its practical uses as a production hub, and the artistic collaboration it inspired, were foundational to Richard Linklater’s Slacker. After making a number of super 8 mm films (including a feature), Linklater had a more ambitious idea, a feature that would take shape through a chain of interactions over the course of a single day, the action moving from one scene to the next by following each new character. The film would be made by and include the people that populated Linklater’s Austin world, the young college grads, over-educated and under-employed, whose days were filled with philosophizing, chance encounters, rock shows, overblown conspiracy theories, and run-ins with the truly insane. While the film was not a mainstream success, it was an electroshock to US film culture, as it was really the first time that Generation X had been depicted in all their authentic disenchantment. Richard’s singular voice and vision marked the arrival of an important filmmaker. The truly surprising thing to the rest of the world was that this new voice was coming out of the “nowheresville” of Austin, Texas.

Around this same time in Austin, a UT film student named Robert Rodriguez shot his feature debut El Mariachi (1992) for a scant $7,000 in Mexico. It was rejected by the intended buyers, the Spanish language home video market, but then discovered by a major studio, Columbia Pictures. Rodriguez too became an overnight sensation, adding yet another Austin, Texas-based independent filmmaker to the national film conversation.

While Robert and Richard were making waves, a bigger production scene was coalescing in the city in the 1990s. After making a number of films in Hollywood, Rodriguez found a way to return to Austin through the acquisition of state-owned property that he turned into his own dedicated production space, Troublemaker Studios, where his hit Spy Kids and Sin City franchises would later be shot. Linklater’s dedication to living in Austin was only strengthened by his work inside the Hollywood studio system on Dazed and Confused (1993). New big names like Guillermo Del Toro, Quentin Tarantino, and Mike Judge were living in Austin on and off, writing and developing projects, and the SXSW Film Festival was founded, adding even more life to the community by driving the wider film industry to Austin every spring. Buoyed by the energy from Slacker and the more active production scene, emerging filmmakers from the University of Texas like Athina Tsangari, Bob Byington, and David Zellner were experimenting with their first films. The presence of so many new talents made it clear that more infrastructure was needed to support what Austin was becoming – a growing hub for emerging and established filmmakers. AFS could no longer exist as a film club; it had to grow into an organization that could speak to the needs of the filmmaker community state-wide.

AFS founded the Texas Filmmakers’ Production Fund, now called the AFS Grant, to become the key source of homegrown support for the making of independent films in Texas. Starting in 1996, the fund provided key financing for the films of Athina Tsangari (The Slow Business of Going, 2000), David and Nathan Zellner (Kid-Thing, 2012), David Lowery (Pioneer, 2011), Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, 2011), Laura Dunn (The Unforeseen, 2007), Bob Byington (Somebody Up There Likes Me, 2012), Yen Tan (1985, 2016), and Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess, 2013). The first years of the fund also awarded Eagle Pennell, another University of Texas drop-out of the 1970s and wildcard Texas filmmaker, whose micro-budget independent films like Last Night at the Alamo (1983) had broken out on the international festival circuit. His brand of character and dialogue-driven independent film had inspired Robert Redford, whose founding of the Sundance Institute had a lot to do with creating opportunities for filmmakers like Eagle. While Eagle never completed his AFS Grant-funded film prior to his death, his award was symbolic of AFS’s commitment to Texas’ most promising independent artists.

As AFS’s support of the grassroots efforts of new filmmakers proved to be an essential part of building the community, so was the founding of Austin Studios in 2001. With the strength of a powerful new executive director named Rebecca Campbell (who has now been at the helm of AFS for 20 years), AFS partnered with the City of Austin to take over part of an abandoned airport and establish a studio facility to support and encourage film production in Texas. To date, Austin Studios has generated $1.7 billion in economic activity for the city of Austin. The studio business has nurtured AFS’s development as a not-for-profit organization, providing more operational infrastructure for program growth. Today, the organization has new plans to add to the now 200,000 square foot studio facility in order to develop a bigger creative hub for small media businesses, larger productions, and production services shops that support Austin’s film community.

Austin is now the 11th largest city in the United States. Year after year over its 32-year history, SXSW has expanded Austin’s reputation as a center for culture and innovation, so that, nationally, Austin is now known as a growing metropolis and creative hub. The number of filmmakers living in Austin is extensive, and the city is now home to a wide swath of creatives, including television writers and producers, post-production houses, multiple studio facilities, and more and more independent filmmakers.

While the landscape has widened, Austin still maintains its own identity as a film community. The fluidity across creative disciplines that gave birth to Austin’s film scene continues to characterize Texas film today. Terrence Malick, Robert Rodriguez, and Richard Linklater are some of the biggest names in Texas filmmaking, but the aesthetic distance between them is the defining factor that describes the creative environment they inhabit. The autonomy that working in Texas afforded artists like Rodriguez and Linklater continues to define those who live here or are attracted to the hive. The singularity of vision across the spectrum of work presented is something we hope you’ll find and appreciate in the selection of films we are bringing to the Czech Republic. Our big open skies may inspire something unique in you.

Holly Herrick

Jonathan Demme Presents: Made in Texas, Six “New” Films from Austin

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the punk and new wave scenes in Austin were giving birth to an underground film scene. Many of the cinephiles at CinemaTexas (UT’s student-run film society) were also in bands and were experimenting with their own Super 8 and 16 mm shorts. Filmmaker Jonathan Demme, already a well-known filmmaker for his work with Roger Corman and his first studio features, was enamored with Austin’s music scene from afar. The Austin Chronicle founder Louis Black invited Demme to experience it in person, and during his stay Black introduced Demme to recent film work by some of the musicians Demme had been following. The films floored Demme, who subsequently organized a New York City screening at the Collective for Living Cinema in 1981. This was the first pronouncement of a new burgeoning scene in Austin and was predictive of Austin’s future as a creative incubator for music and film.

Films included in this program:

Invasion of the Aluminum People (David Boone)

Leonardo, Jr. (Lorrie Oshatz)

Death of a Rock Star (Tom Huckabee and Will Van Overbeek)

Fair Sisters (Missy Boswell, Edward Lowry and Louis Black)

Mask of Sarnath (Neil Ruttenberg)

Speed of Light (Brian Hansen)

Descriptions courtesy of Louis Black, The Austin Chronicle and SXSW co-founder, who released the compilation of films in 2015 in collaboration with Watchmaker Films and the University of Texas Press.

Austin Film Society Shorts

Since 1996 the Austin Film Society has granted over $1.7 million to Texas-based filmmakers, often launching significant careers in the arts. The grant looks to fund filmmakers with a unique vision. The shorts presented in this program were all recipients of Austin Film Society funding and were stepping stones in these filmmakers’ promising careers.

Films included in this program

Pioneer (2011, David Lowery)

Rat Pack Rat (2014, Todd Rohal)

Skunk (2014, Annie Silverstein)

1985 (2016, Yen Tan)

The Rabbit Hunt (2017, Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas)

Carne Seca (2015, Jazmin Diaz)

Sources and further reading:


Austin Film Society 10th Anniversary Retrospective, edited by Elizabeth Peters. Published by Austin Film Society, 1995.

Austin Film Society 20th Anniversary Retrospective, edited by Rebecca Campbell. Published by Austin Film Society, 2005.

Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: Thirty Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas, by Alison Macor. University of Texas Press, 2010.

Rebel Without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player, by Robert Rodriguez. Plume, 1996.
Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade in American Independent Film, by John Pierson. Faber & Faber, 1995.

Jonathan Demme Presents: Made in Texas, Six New Films from Austin. Louis Black Productions and Watchmaker Films, 2015.

  • Computer Chess Počítačové šachy / Computer Chess
    Directed by: Andrew Bujalski
    USA, 2013, 92 min

    Computer Chess is set in the 1980s at a man-versus-computer chess tournament. The film is a comedic and philosophical examination of the relationship between ideas and technology and of the absurdity accompanying innovation.

  • Death of a Rock Star Smrt rockové hvězdy / Death of a Rock Star
    Directed by: Tom Huckabee, Will Van Overbeek
    USA, 1981, 12 min

    Death of a Rock Star is an homage to the late great singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison. It is an image-laden, almost surreal film, which integrates actual events from Morrison’s life into a patterned structure, held together by a new score by Adrian Quesada.

  • Dried Meat Sušené maso / Carne Seca
    Directed by: Jazmin Diaz
    USA, 2015, 11 min

    Jazmin Diaz was an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin when she made this short film, a stunningly effective naturalistic story of a struggling Texas family, and a rare window into Tex-Mex “border” culture.

  • El Mariachi Mariachi / El Mariachi
    Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
    USA, 1992, 81 min

    Before making box-office smash hits like Sin City and Spy Kids, Robert Rodriguez went to Mexico with $7,000 and a screenplay about a Mariachi singer who gets mistaken for a hitman. The film was bought by Columbia Pictures, screened at the Sundance Film Festival, and set Robert off on his Hollywood trajectory.

  • Fair Sisters Sestry v triku / Fair Sisters
    Directed by: Missy Boswell, Edward Lowry, Louis Black
    USA, 1981, 7 min

    Fair Sisters appropriately enough is a tribute in many ways to Jonathan Demme’s first film Caged Heat (1979, New World Pictures). The film, directed by Louis Black, Missy Boswell, and the late great Ed Lowry, concerns the robbery of a high stakes poker game.

  • Invasion of the Aluminum People Invaze hliníkových lidí / Invasion of the Aluminum People
    Directed by: David Boone
    USA, 1981, 30 min

    This remarkable film celebrates fifties science fiction films, aluminum, and life in the modern world. A science fiction mystery of sorts. The film can also be seen as an allegorical testimony for “the Church of the Sub-Genius” (a satirical, parody religion started by artists and musicians).

  • Kid-Thing Dítě-věc / Kid-Thing
    Directed by: David Zellner
    USA, 2012, 83 min

    Brothers David and Nathan Zellner began making shorts together in the 1990s, and their latest film Damsel competed at Berlin. In Kid-Thing, a deviant 10-year-old tomboy spends her days engaging in fully destructive behavior until she discovers an old woman stuck at the bottom of a well. The movie was described in Screen Daily as “backwoods weirdness with a pop-art sensibility.”

  • Last Night at the Alamo Poslední noc v Alamu / Last Night at the Alamo
    Directed by: Eagle Pennell
    USA, 1983, 84 min

    Eagle Pennell, Texas’ own outlaw filmmaker, came out of a world full of saloons and country people, barmaids, drunks, schemers, and small time criminals. Not surprisingly, he chose to realize a film that would capture “a dying breed of Westerner” whose existence was threatened by Texas’ sprawling urban development and ever-growing oil wealth.

  • Leonardo, Jr. Leonardo jr. / Leonardo, Jr.
    Directed by: Lorrie Oshatz
    USA, 1981, 7 min

    Leonardo, Jr. is a loving tribute to the wonderful silent comedy work of Buster Keaton. Writer, director, and actor Lorrie Oshatz tastefully and affectionately creates a catalogue of humorous situations with the style and grace of the Master.

  • Mask of Sarnath Maska ze Sárnáthu / Mask of Sarnath
    Directed by: Neil Ruttenberg
    USA, 1981, 20 min

    Mask of Sarnath, a finalist for the 1980 Student Academy Awards, is structured as an entry in the horror film genre. The theme of the film, “Evil Never Dies,” dominates the narrative and is backed by a hauntingly eerie soundtrack recorded especially for the film by Throbbing Gristle, a British punk/art/new wave rock group with a following on two continents.

  • Pioneer Objevitel / Pioneer
    Directed by: David Lowery
    USA, 2011, 16 min

    Dallas-based David Lowery (director of A Ghost Story and Disney’s Pete’s Dragon) created his own genre of lyrical earth-bound mysticism in his short films, which he carried into his remarkable feature work. Pioneer, made shortly before his second, break-out feature Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, is a simple bedtime story told to a young boy, and 16 minutes of pure cinema magic.

  • The Rabbit Hunt Hon na králíky / The Rabbit Hunt
    Directed by: Patrick Bresnan
    USA, 2017, 12 min

    Austin-based artists and filmmakers Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas join forces to make remarkably cinematic, thickly atmospheric non-fiction films. Over several years they have focused on the residents of an old sugar cane plantation town in Florida where isolation and poverty exist alongside resilience, community, and creativity. This short film explores the local practice of rabbit hunting.

  • Rat Pack Rat Rat Pack Rat / Rat Pack Rat
    Directed by: Todd Rohal
    USA, 2014, 19 min

    Todd Rohal’s dark, comedic cinema is inspired by slapstick, vaudeville, silent-era comedies, and the bizarre and grotesque. This short, which won a major prize at the Sundance Film Festival, is about a terminally ill young man visited by a Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator.

  • Skunk Skunk / Skunk
    Directed by: Annie Silverstein
    USA, 2014, 15 min

    Annie Silverstein’s short film about a girl, her dog, and an encounter at a swimming hole bears an intimate connection to its Texas environs and has a searing authenticity. Silverstein made the film while a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. The film was awarded the top prize of the Cannes Cinéfondation.

  • Slacker Flákač / Slacker
    Directed by: Richard Linklater
    USA, 1991, 97 min

    The film that defined Austin, Texas for a generation. Richard Linklater enlisted his local community to help him make a visionary feature that would take shape through a chain of interactions over the course of a single day, the action moving from one scene to the next by following each new character. The film is known as one of the defining American movies of the 1990s.

  • The Slow Business of Going Pomalu jít / The Slow Business of Going
    Directed by: Athina Rachel Tsangari
    Greece, USA, 2000, 95 min

    The Slow Business of Going is a wild experiment involving a patchwork of film images and references, in a story about a young woman who travels the world collecting audiovisual material. Tsangari’s first feature, made with a grant from the Austin Film Society, heralds the artist’s dexterity with film logic and language, and with imaginative cultural critique.

  • Somebody Up There Likes Me Někdo tam nahoře mě má rád / Somebody Up There Likes Me
    Directed by: Bob Byington
    USA, 2012, 76 min

    Somebody Up There Likes Me stars Nick Offerman as the sidekick of a young slacker who bumbles and fails his way through romantic encounters. Film Comment noted that “the film remains true to the Byington spirit – snapshots of life bursting with disappointment and desperation, dished up tongue in cheek, laced with offbeat wit, and offered in a spirit of fun.”

  • Speed of Light Rychlost světla / Speed of Light
    Directed by: Brian Hansen
    USA, 1981, 30 min

    Speed of Light is best described, in the words of its creators, as a “screaming red piece of time crash-landing in the cultural backwash of the American Gothic.” Directed by Brian Hansen, the film also features a soundtrack by Radio Free Europe, an Austin new wave/art rock/mechanical noise group of which Hansen was a member.

  • Take Shelter Úkryt / Take Shelter
    Directed by: Jeff Nichols
    USA, 2011, 121 min

    Take Shelter is the Arkansas-born, Austin-based filmmaker’s rumination on an empire in decline and its shattering effects on masculinity. The film features one of the greatest career performances of Academy Award-nominated actor Michael Shannon, as well as a breakout role for the then-emerging actress Jessica Chastain.

  • The Unforeseen Nepředvídatelné / The Unforeseen
    Directed by: Laura Dunn
    USA, 2007, 97 min

    Focusing on the rapid development of Austin and how it threatens the city’s pristine natural resources, Dunn weaves a tale about land and culture that is enthralling and poetic, a story of how environment shapes people. Her collaborators include Robert Redford and Austin-based Terrence Malick, the luminaries of environmentally-connected filmmaking.

  • 1985 1985 / 1985
    Directed by: Yen Tan
    USA, 2016, 9 min

    This beautiful Dallas-made short depicts a moment of humanity shared between a disease-stricken young man and a door-to-door makeup saleswoman. His feature version of 1985, which was elaborated from the short, premiered at SXSW 2018.


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