I was skeptical about attending a film festival in its first year. The first year of any complicated event can be a learning experience. The great team that put on the first Lake Travis Film Festival (#LTFF), in Texas Hill Country, taught me to be less of a skeptic. The festival had great films, great fun, and great learning experiences.
The festival emerged from the creative spirit of screenwriter, director and producer Kat Albert. Albert graduated from Texas Tech and worked in Houston and Chicago before relocating to Austin. After a career in advertising, she switched to filmmaking and founded her own studio. Her films have played world-wide and she lectures on filmmaking.
The Lake Travis Film Festival gets its moniker from, you guessed it, Lake Travis. Rather than be just another one of the many film festivals and events for which Austin is known, Albert chose to locate this new event about 40 miles west of Austin in the Texas Hill Country. And just to keep you on your toes, it moved around. Films and classes for the first two days occurred in Lakeway overlooking Lake Travis, then moved south for a day to Bee Cave, and finally for the last day ended up in the old west filming locale of Sky Ranch and included an optional tour of other filming locations in the Hill Country.
A few of the many productions shot in the Hill Country include The Walking Dead , The Alamo (2004), True Grit (2010), Red Headed Stranger, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Idiocracy and Lonesome Dove. Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, and Mike Judge call the Austin area home.
Lake Travis Film Festival included 92 films, in a variety of genres, including student films and music videos. My favorites included Class Act: Dance Hall Divas, Magnolia’s Hope, Writer’s Block, and A Room Full of Nothing. The amazing documentary Cowboys, which I previously reviewed, also screened.
Class Act: Dance Hall Divas brought you along on the adventures of a group of senior citizen ladies who decided to find something more than bingo and book clubs for their golden years. They formed a dance troop. This unlikely avocation brought them media attention and many opportunities to perform for 17 years. They even danced with the Radio City Rockettes on one occasion. An unexpected benefit, their activity kept many of the classic disabilities of old age at bay for much longer than is typical. The remaining members of the group attended the festival and the film received the Best Short Documentary Award.
I had never heard of Rett Syndrome until I saw the film Magnolia’s Hope. Rett Syndrome is a relatively rare disease that primarily afflicts girls. They seem normal at birth, but a genetic defect causes a chemical imbalance that leads to a deterioration of the ability to control the body. Like any young parents Jenny and AJ Tesler began documenting the miracle of their new baby. At first everything was joyful, but over time, they began to suspect something was wrong. When they were told about Rett Syndrome, they vowed not to let this destroy their daughter. Their love for Magnolia not only resulted in this film (see the trailer below) but in a non-profit dedicated to finding a cure. Find out how you can help at their YouTube channel.
Fantasy and sci-fi are favorite genres, and A Room Full of Nothing takes you into a masterfully crafted flight of fancy. And it’s scary. On the surface, it is about an artistic couple, played by Ivy Meehan and Duncan Coe, who are having difficulty communicating. Then they start wishing for things. The things come true, but not in a good way. Meehan’s performance is amazing and carries the film. It has been years since I have been so impressed by a performance. Coe, who also wrote and directed, was lucky to find this talented actress.
As a writer, I had to view Writer’s Block. We meet Skip, played by Craig Nigh, who is suffering from writer’s block. He gets an offer from a world-famous novelist, portrayed by Mike Gassaway, to help co-write his next book. He agrees and then things get weird, then life-threatening. The film, written and directed by Austin’s Jeff Kerr and Ray Spivey, won the Best Made in Texas award. It’s a scary thriller you should add to your must-see list, even if you aren’t a writer.
Great Learning and Fun
Besides seeing films, attendees could also put on their student hats. Readings by a great team of actors were done of a feature length and short script in the screenplay competition. There were workshops for actors, writers and other specialties. I found the producers workshop, taught by Nick W. Nicholson, exceptionally helpful.
The last day of the festival included workshops on make-up, special effects, and set design. A stunt team also demonstrated their skills.
And, of course, there were parties. One thing, which I believe was a function of the festival being just the right size and the relaxed atmosphere of the Hill Country, was the opportunity for networking. I’ve only been working in the Austin area for less than three years, but I encountered almost a dozen people I had worked with or met before. I also made new contacts.