Austin, Texas. What do you associate this deep in the heart of Texas city with?
It’s a destination people think of as bachelor or bachelorette parties, the ubiquitous SXSW Film, Music and Tech festival, ACL – the live music event spread over two weekends and various conferences. Of course, those of us over 60 visit Austin to see our children and grandchildren, many of whom relocated here from across the country during the pandemic and before for the booming tech industry.
Then others like adventure and culture, like me. I’m a film and TV nut, and the ATX (abbreviation for Austin, Texas) TV Festival was something I couldn’t miss out on. It has become the largest festival of its kind in the USA, if not the world.
Surprisingly, and to my delight, I noticed more senior women than I had in previous years attend the Festival. I made friends with women from California, NYC and upstate NY, and Miami. Clusters of two or more ladies enjoyed themselves at the opening and closing events, panels, previews, and whooping it up from June 1 through June 4.
Those ladies were living it up at the ATX TV Festival, now in its 12th year. Founded by two local women, Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson, the Festival’s humble beginnings were in 2012 when attendance was 700 to over 3,000 people. The organizers describe it as having “the functionality of a traditional film festival” while blending industry and fan events.
The Paramount Theater on one of the main drags, Congress Avenue, near the Capitol, was home to the opening night festivities, including a red carpet world premiere of the FX TV series Justified, City Primeval. Cast members Timothy Olyphant, Boyd Holbrook, Adelaide Clemens, Vivian Olyphant (daughter of Timothy), and executive producer Sarah Timberman took the stage after the premiere for a Q&A on the series.
Trivia Night was a hoot for everyone. In addition to the fun prizes, including the grand prize of an at-home projector, pizza, and flavored popcorn snacks were plentiful.
Badges for the whole experience cost $535.00 and decrease from the Camp Badge, which includes access to General Programming, Marquee Programming, Exclusive Camp Events, a TV Camp Welcome Bag with Camp-exclusive swag, Drink Tickets, a Virtual Pass, and more! Camp Badges receive five (5) Fast Passes and access to exclusive Camp-Only Programming, including micro-programming and roundtables.
Most panel discussions were held at the Driskill, the oldest hotel in Austin, built in 1886. If that is their only claim to fame, here’s another: anyone will undoubtedly remember the stench upon entering the musty lobby and rooms. It smelled as if no one had cleaned the entire interior since 1886.
If you think guns are art, you’ll appreciate the restaurant’s similarity to a set of “Yellowstone.” Cowhide covers the tables (otherwise known as taxidermy), visible through glass, while paintings of cowboys, guns, displays of real guns, and sculptures of cowboys with guns adorn the interior.
Don’t come here for the coffee because this so-called iconic hotel doesn’t even serve a Café Latte. Several other hotels within walking distance offer much better options and higher standards.
I interviewed the pop-documentarian Billy Corben, a kid wonder who, at 20, became the youngest filmmaker at Sundance in 2001. Raw Deal, his first film, generated enormous controversy and ended up on the cover of the New York Post. It was the dawn of DV, digital video.
“Reasonable people disagreed on whether or not this video was, in fact, a consensual act and became a scandal. This is all before the age of ‘fake news.’ It was incredible,” Billy recalls.
He’s since created the wildly successful series Cocaine Cowboys about drug dealers from South America and how they infiltrated Florida to become the biggest cartels in the world.
Many of us remember the Cuban diaspora to South Florida, Noriega in the news, and the TV series Miami Vice. Cocaine Cowboys was so successful, in 2024 the fourth in the series will be released.
Many actors, producers, directors, and showrunners are accessible and willing to speak or take selfies (for a few seconds) with badge holders. Unlike other film festivals, the vibe at ATX TV Festival is chill and friendly. Meeting others in the queue and chatting about your favorite TV personalities, shows, and trivia is the most fun.
While finishing up a panel, I grabbed J.J. Duncan, the Executive Producer and showrunner for the Peacock TV series The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, presented by Universal Studio Group, on her way to another gig.
“The title got me when I first saw the script. I thought, ‘What on earth is Swedish Death Cleaning?’ Americans have a morbid relation to death, and the word death is hardly used in society. I learned so much by working on this film; about the Swedes and their relation to death. Death cleaning is more about life and how you prepare for death than about the dying process. It’s about downsizing and how important it is for the family who would inherit ‘stuff’ from the deceased to clean out all the extraneous items before a loved one’s death.
“The message of preparation is told through the lens of three Swedish characters who bring a body, mind, and spirit to all aspects of the death-cleaning process. Many people have told us their stories about the death of a loved one and how hard it was to get rid of unwanted belongings or how memories of someone’s life through material objects impacted them. We chose stories to tell on this show based of real people’s experiences with the death of a loved one and ‘how they wished they would’ve cleaned up before a person died’.”
Getting to and from the airport and around town, in case you want to see other sights, is best by Lyft or Uber since there is no public transportation. As the festival is typically held in June, weather conditions can be hot and in the 90s, so be sure to bring a sun umbrella, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and long sleeve cotton shirt to wear over a tank top.
What film festival would you like to visit? Why? Have you been to ATX TV Festival or a different film event? What can you share about it?