Austin Film Festival spotlight screenwriters

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Hollywood might not exactly place screenwriters on a pedestal, but Austin does. When the Austin Film Festival and Conference launched in 1994, it intrepidly went where few, if any, festivals dared go before: It made writers the kings of its screening slate, conference, and screenplay and teleplay competitions. Now the festival, which runs from Oct. 11-18, is a mecca for writers around the world who want to network at panels and parties -- or play hooky to check out the city's famous music scene.

"We realized no one was doing anything for the writer," says co-founder and executive director Barbara Morgan. "It was a niche Austin could fulfill because a lot of screenwriters live here (such as William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert of 1995's "Apollo 13"). The biggest competition we had was people coming from L.A. who didn't want to go to the movies -- they wanted to go hear music."

This year's honorees include John Milius, who will receive the distinguished screenwriter award; Oliver Stone, who will get the extraordinary contribution to filmmaking award; and Glenn Gordon Caron, set to accept the outstanding television writer award. Other marquee names scheduled to appear at panels during the four-day conference include Robin Swicord, Barry Josephson, Thomas Schlamme, Nicholas Kazan, Terry Rossio, Ed Solomon, Scott Alexander and Terry George.

This year, organizers are anticipating that some 9,000 festivalgoers will come to see more than 175 movies from 16 countries. "In tune with the focus on writers, the film slate -- which kicks off with Roadside Attractions' documentary "Chicago 10" from writer-director Brett Morgen -- is selected with an emphasis on narrative storytelling.

"It's great to look at film as more than something done by the director," Morgan says. "Focusing on the writer really brings to light the collaborative aspect of film: One person thinks in terms of words and another turns them into pictures, and that's a pretty cool thing. We shine the light on someone a lot of people forget, and that's the person who puts the words on the page."

And not only words for humanoids to speak. For the second year, Austin will shine a spotlight on animation with panels and screenings featuring a talking octopus and other wonders of the CGI world. Also new this year is a special screening category to accommodate the relatively large number of entries from Vietnam.

Perhaps the most anticipated parts of the conference for many of the 3,000 people expected to attend are the writing competitions, in light of the encouraging track record among previous winners. The winner of the first competition was Max D. Adams, whose script for "Excess Baggage" was picked up by Barry Josephson when he was at Sony and made into the 1997 comedy starring Alicia Silverstone.

"That helped put us on the map," Morgan says, who received 4,000 entries this year. Other competition winners whose work was later produced include Richard Levine (2003's "Happy Hour" with Anthony LaPaglia and Eric Stoltz) and Ron Peer (1998's "Goodbye Lover" with Patricia Arquette and Ellen DeGeneres).  


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