Austin Film Society announces 2015 recipients of the annual AFS Grant

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A still from "Nakom"

The Austin Film Society (AFS) announced Tuesday the recipients of the 2015 AFS Grants, which awarded $105,000 in cash and $30,000 in goods and services to 37 projects and 38 filmmakers from Texas.

This year’s newest addition to the AFS Grant is Dell’s Powered By Dell Grant, which awards $15,000 in cash grants and $15,000 in Dell Precision workstations, UltraSharp monitors and Adobe Creative Cloud suites.

The technology and cash grants are awarded to filmmakers Ben and Bo Powell for the in-progress feature documentary, “Untitled Rosedale Project,” about an old town in the Mississippi Delta, and to Paul Gordon for “Wolves,” his narrative feature about a young woman whotakes in a homeless performance artist/chef couple.

(Ben and Bo Powell were also awarded $10,000 of in-kind camera package and equipment rentals from MPS Camera and Lighting.)

An additional cash grant was awarded to Deborah Esquenazi for her feature documentary, “Southwest of Salem.”

Lauren Pruitt’s short, “Never Been Pied” and Daniel Laabs narrative feature, “Easy” were also awarded the $10,000 of in-kind camera package and equipment rental.

A $5,000 in-kind film stock award from Kodak Motion Picture Film was awarded to Daniel Levin’ s feature film, “Bagatelle.”

This year’s AFS Travel Grant awarded $15,000, up from $10,000 in previous years, to filmmakers to travel with their films to the world’s most celebrated international festivals. The AFS Travel Grant supported filmmakers such as Trey Edward Shults and Juan Pablo Gonzalez, who traveled to Cannes for their films’ respective bows at Cannes Critic’s Week and Director’s Fortnight.

IN THE SHADOWS A still from "In the Shadows" directed by Alvaro Torres-Crespo

A still from “In the Shadows” directed by Alvaro Torres-Crespo

Eleven of the 22 recipients are first-time winners. Grant recipient David Fenster, who is working on “Monument to Cabeza de Vaca” is an Independent Spirit Award Nominee for his previous feature film “Pincus.”

“Before You Know It” director PJ Raval, who is working on “Justice for Jennifer” about the murder of a young Filipina transgender woman by a U.S. marine, has received four previous AFS grants and is a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow.

Krishnan Vasudevan, grant recipient for “Our Voices Matter,” about young, minority creatives living in Austin, is an Emmy nominated producer.

AFS Artistic Director Richard Linklater co-founded the grant in 1996. Since then, the Austin Film Society has awarded a total of $1.5 million in cash, and $212,790 in goods and services, to 466 projects.

An independent panel determines the recipients of the AFS Grant; the 2015 jurors included “Buffalo ’66” co-writer /”The Dish & the Spoon” writer/director Alison Bagnall, “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty” writer/director Terence Nance, and director of Programming at the Nantucket and DOC NYC Film Festivals Basil Tsiokos.  AFS’s Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick leads the grant team.

A full list of 2015 AFS grants can be found below:


A still from "Nakom"

A still from “Nakom”

NAKOM – Kelly Daniela Norris and TW Pittman – Austin, TX
$9,000 for Post-Production
An intimate narrative from northern Ghana, NAKOM follows a talented medical student who must return to his home village after his father’s death, and fight for his family’s survival.

WOLVES – Paul Gordon – Austin, TX
AFS Powered by Dell Technology Grant (up to $7,500 value)
$5,000 for Production

Ashley, a young idealistic woman, takes in a homeless performance artist/chef couple–Brandi and Theo–after meeting Brandi at a therapeutic laughter class at the community center where she works.

BAGATELLE – Daniel Levin – Sugar Land, TX
AFS Kodak Film Award: $5,000 in film stock 
While on tour in South Texas, a struggling Russian cellist ditches her musical career to attempt a marriage with a wealthy farmer. The story is inspired and is loosely based on “Count Nulin”, a poem by Alexander Pushkin.

JULES OF LIGHT AND DARK – Daniel Laabs – Dallas, TX
$2,000 for Production
MPS Camera and Lighting Award: $3,000 in camera package & equipment rentals
A mysterious car accident brings together two strangers who are struggling to reconcile dual lives in a rural Pennsylvania town.


AFS Powered by Dell Cash Grant: $5,000 for Post-Production
$5,000 for Post-Production 
SOUTHWEST OF SALEM excavates the nightmarish persecution of Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez – four Latina lesbians wrongfully convicted of allegedly gang raping two little girls in San Antonio, TX. The film unravels the sinister interplay of mythology, homophobia, and prosecutorial fervor, which led to this modern day witch hunt during the ‘Satanic sexual abuse hysteria’ from the late-80’s and early-90’s in the U.S.

THE SENSITIVES – Drew Xanthopoulos – Austin, TX
$9,000 for Post-Production 
A loving grandfather is struck down by a debilitating illness with mysterious, environmental origins, and faces an agonizing choice: an uncertain future with his family or the lure of an isolated, “safe” community built for “sensitives” like him.

STUMPED – Robin Berghaus – Austin, TX
$9,000 for Post-Production 
When filmmaker Will Lautzenheiser loses his limbs to a bacterial infection, he turns to stand-up comedy as a new creative outlet. After three years of intense rehab and late-night comedy gigs, Will risks his life to undergo a rare double-arm transplantation in the hope of reclaiming his independence while advancing experimental medicine.
UNTITLED ROSEDALE PROJECT – Ben and Bo Powell – Austin, TX
AFS Powered by Dell Cash Grant: $5,000 for Production 
AFS Powered by Dell Technology Grant (up to $7,500 value)
MPS Camera and Lighting Award: $5,000 in camera package & equipment rentals 
The people of UNTITLED ROSEDALE PROJECT — they’re gonna show you this town. This tough old town in the Mississippi Delta, where the scars of slavery and segregation run deep. The “South’s South” – some people make it here, most people don’t, and that’s the way it’s always been. Who built this ghost town, and who are the ghosts? It depends who’s leading the tour.

GOOD OL’ GIRL – Sarah Kolb – Kenedy, TX
$5,000 for Production
GOOD OL’ GIRL chronicles the progressive stages of a ranch’s working life through three Texas women’s stories. Through Tanya (a single black mother of five), LeMoine (a young Southern Belle set to inherit one of the largest ranches in Texas), and Dillie (a seventy year-old widow navigating tense family battles and her own failing health), GOOD OL’ GIRL investigates a bevy of women’s issues through the lens of a niche industry that has historically been ruled by men.

$5,000 for Production
As U.S. military presence in the Philippines escalates, JUSTICE FOR JENNIFER captures national outrage over the murder of a young Filipina transgender woman by a U.S. marine. Challenging the terms of the Philippine-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) through grassroots organizing and courtroom advocacy, a cast of unforgettable feminist and transgender activists tirelessly confronts homophobia and transphobia, as long-simmering postcolonial tensions rise to the surface.
LESLIE – Tracy Frazier – Austin, TX
$5,000 for Production
LESLIE (working title) is a hybrid documentary that reveals the inner and bizarre world of Albert Leslie Cochran, a rebellious, cross-dressing homeless man who became the most unlikely civic symbol of Austin, Texas. Told with unapologetic humor, the film chronicles the life and career of a misfit who becomes a cultural icon while searching for love and a true sense of home. LESLIE draws a parallel between one man’s efforts to preserve his identity with the collective struggle of a changing city.

MONUMENT TO CABEZA DE VACA – David Fenster – Marfa, TX
$5,000 for Production
In 1528, Alvar Nunez Cabeza De Vaca, a Spanish conquistador, was shipwrecked in Florida. Over the next 10 years he wandered, lost and naked, to West Texas and became a shaman along the way. De Vaca’s story is told through his own words and contemporary voices including: Asher Hartman, a transgender shaman; Paul Fenster, the filmmaker’s father, who exists in a space between life and death; and a talking cactus that claims to be inhabited by the spirit of De Vaca.

A THIN LINE – Scott Harris – Flower Mound, TX
$5,000 for Production
A filmmaker, haunted by a past of merciless schoolyard bullying, tries to distract himself from fears about his mental health, until he is eventually forced to confront them.

FUNNIEST – Katie Pengra and Dustin Svehlak, – Austin, TX
$2,000 for Post-Production
Outside of mainstays like New York and Los Angeles, Austin is the quickest developing stand up comedy scene in the nation. For 30 years, Capitol City Comedy Club has hosted the Funniest Person in Austin contest, which draws over 200 local contestants annually. After a grueling 7-week competition, only one comic can call themselves Funniest.

THE SONS OF JOSÉ BOLAÑOS – Juan Pablo Gonzalez – Austin, TX
$2,000 for Production
THE SONS OF JOSÉ BOLAÑOS is a meditative portrait of a Mexican rural family, its history with migration and how this contributed to the loss of their youngest son, Fernando. By observing the everyday life of the Bolanos family, and listening to their retelling of the last time each of them spoke to Fernando, The Sons of Jose Bolanos constructs a profound meditation on the mutability of memory as it poignantly depicts the present complexities of rural Mexico.

IN THE SHADOWS – Alvaro Torres-Crespo – Austin, TX
$1,000 for Production
IN THE SHADOWS follows a group of gold panners deep in Costa Rica’s jungle. For years they have panned the rivers and exchanged their gold for food and alcohol. Now, the government has decided to expel them all. This lyrical film captures the men’s struggle and questions Costa Rica’s conservation fame.

OUR VOICES MATTER – Krishnan Vasudevan – Austin, TX
$1,000 for Production
OUR VOICES MATTER follows the journey of young, minority creatives living in Austin, Texas. By creating socially provocative art, music, and films the characters are attempting to engage and rewrite commonly held narratives about race and racial identities in the US. By learning about their experiences, we gain a more nuanced and intimate understanding of the challenges minority youth face.


PLANE PRETEND – Sharon Arteaga – Austin, TX
$5,000 for Post-Production
Pilar and her little brothers are ecstatic to take their first flight, but they must hide their excitement or risk revealing their undocumented status and being deported.

NEVER BEEN PIED – Lauren Pruitt – Austin, TX
$1,000 for Production
MPS Camera and Lighting Award: $2,000 in camera package & equipment rentals 
Young and flirty Danni has her hopes set on being a plus-size model. Her naive mother Rita unknowingly puts her on a new prescription that will help her on the way to achieving her dream.

BOOBS – Colin Hyer and Bryce Worcester – Austin, TX
$1,000 for Post-Production
Two twelve-year-old boys go on an epic quest to reach the local nudie beach.

CARNE SECA – Jazmin Diaz – Fort Worth, TX
$1,000 for Distribution
Brothers David and Oscar Juarez have until sunset in rural Mexico to turn a profit on their father’s business, or face the consequences of his belligerence.

COMMUNITY CENTRAL – Karen Kocher – Austin, TX
$1,000 for Production
Through oral histories, rare still images, and artful recreations, this documentary recounts the “Golden Age” of Barton Springs; including the little-known, and surprising race history of Austin’s famed swimming hole.

FLORENCE – Caleb Kuntz – Austin, TX
$1,000 for Post-Production
Florence is a teenager enraptured by her unusual perception of the world. Socially unadapted, she is misdiagnosed and prescribed psychotropic medication.

2015 AFS Travel Grant Recipients

ALL THAT WE LOVE  – Yen Tan – Austin, TX
IFP: Emerging Storytellers

BARGE – Ben S. Powell – Austin, TX
Full Frame Documentary Festival

EASY – Daniel Laabs – Dallas, TX
Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival

IN THE SHADOWS – Alvaro Torres-Crespo – Austin, TX
Berlin Film Festival – Berlinale Talents and Doc Station

I WAS A TEENAGE GIRL – Augustine Frizzell – Dallas, TX
Outfest Film Festival

KRISHA – Trey E. Shults – Montgomery, TX
Woodstock Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival

NOTHING HUMAN – Tom Rosenberg – Austin, TX
Locarno International Film Festival

PEACE OFFICER – Scott Christopherson – Austin, TX
Hot Docs Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival

RESULTS – Andrew Bujalski – Austin, TX 
Sundance Film Festival

7 CHINESE BROTHERS – Robert Byington – Austin, TX
San Francisco International Film Festival, Thessaloniki International Film Festival

THE SOLITUDE OF MEMORY – Juan Pablo González – Austin, TX
International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, Slamdance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival

SQUIRREL – Tomas Vengris – Austin, TX
Berlin Film Festival

TOPOPHILIA – Peter Bo Rappmund – Dallas, TX
Locarno International Film Festival

THE TROUBLE WITH RAY  – Travis A. Johns – Houston, TX
International Documentary Film Festival

WE WILL ALWAYS BE HERE – Monique Walton – Austin, TX
Berlin Film Festival: Berlinale Talent Campus

*Listed in order of cash award amount

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