Austin Under the Stars draws filmmakers, builds community

Andrea Tinning

Austin’s festival scene is growing its reputation as a place for filmmakers, but the community aspects of festivals can be hard to find amidst the chaos of events like SXSW. A new film festival, Austin Under the Stars, is combating this problem in order to “make film festivals fun again” with a relaxed outdooratmosphere ideal for networking.

The festival opened Oct. 21 and premiered at the Lone Star Court in the Domain. Twenty-seven films were narrowed from a wide variety of submissions with genres ranging from music videos to comedy, drama to horror. The first half of the festival was lighthearted with mature content screening in the later second half of the event.

Festival director and founder Ali Alkhafaji said his goal is to have the festival twice a year, in the fall and spring.

“Since the sun will set a little bit earlier, it gives more time for people to meet and greet,” Alkhafaji said. “The plan with the trajectory (is) to keep on throwing this twice a year and really get as much of the community involved as possible until we outgrow this venue and take it to a new location.”

Alkhafaji intends for the festival to bring together a community of Austin filmmakers and to give back to the larger community. The festival donates part of its proceeds to nonprofit organizations Autism Speaks and Autism Society of Texas.

“The main reason was we always wanted it to be an event that gave back and was a charitable contributor, but I personally know a lot of people that have family members with autism and my mom actually is a special ed teacher,” Alkhafaji said. “It was just a cause I felt pretty passionately about and from there we reached out to Autism Speaks, and Autism Society of Texas actually reached out to us.”

The festival was international and filmmakers from all over the United States visited Austin to see their films premiere on the big screen. 

Director of Finding Ramses, Javier Torres, specifically submitted to Austin Under the Stars because it was the halfway point between his home in New Orleans and a collaborator’s location in Los Angeles.

“We were looking at festivals we would both be able to reasonably come to,” Torres said. “We were really happy to submit to the festival. This was our first project together and the fact that it got in was amazing to us.”

For other filmmakers, the festival atmosphere is where creative ideas become a reality through networking. 

Seraphina Nova-Glass, a creative writing professor at UT-Arlington, and her husband Mark Glass met when Nova-Glass casted her husband for a short film and the couple has enjoyed making films together ever since. Through festival networking, the team casted A-list celebrity Ed Asner in their award nominated submission, The Flood.

For Glass though, the real reward comes from having an audience for the film, which is the main reason why festivals are so important.

“You have to have an audience for your film, that’s the most challenging thing out of everything. Short films especially need that because to get it into the theater is a rare thing. The more festivals we have, the more of a stage we have,” Glass said. “It’s not about the money, it’s not about anything else. It’s about having people see your film.”