The Austin Film Festival (AFF), the premier film festival recognizing the contributions of writers and filmmakers to film, television and new media, has announced that The Whale will serve as the festival’s opening night selection. Directed by Academy Award® nominee Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, BLACK SWAN, The Wrestler). The Whale stars Brendan Fraser and is written by Samuel D. Hunter, based on his acclaimed play of the same name. The Whale will screen the opening night of the Festival, on October 27, with the presence of Hunter.
Additionally, AFF is hosting a special screening of James Gray’s latest film, Armageddon Time, with Gray in attendance to receive this year’s Bill Wittliff Screenwriting Award. Previous recipients include Buck Henry (1997), Lawrence Kasdan (2001), Nancy Meyers (2016), and Tony Gilroy (2018). The festival also welcomes an extensive slate of films, including Israeli filmmaker Jonathan Dekel’s Checkout and the world premiere of The Wild Man by local Austin filmmaker Riley Cusick.
Writer/director/producer James Gray, who has written the screenplay for every major film he has also directed, made his directorial debut in 1994 at the age of 25 with Little Odessa. The film received the Critics’ Award at the Deauville Film Festival as well as the Silver Lion at Venice. His second feature film, The Yards (2000), began his career-long collaboration with Joaquin Phoenix and included Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Faye Dunaway, Ellen Burstyn and James Caan. Gray’s New York crime drama We Own The Night (2007) starred Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Eva Mendes and Robert Duvall.
His fourth feature film, the Brooklyn-set drama Two Lovers (2008), opened in Competition at Cannes and received a César nomination for Best Foreign Film in 2009. It received Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best Director and Best Leading Actress. . In May 2013, The Immigrant, starring his longtime collaborator Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner, became his fourth film to premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
Gray’s film The Lost City of Z was based on David Grann’s best-selling novel and starred Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland. It had its world premiere as the closing night selection of the 2016 New York Film Festival and was released in theaters by Amazon Studios/Bleecker Street in April 2017. The Academy Award-nominated space epic Ad Astra Gray’s Academy starred Brad Pitt and was released in theaters in September. 2019 after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
His latest project, Armageddon Time, which he again wrote, directed and produced, is a deeply personal project inspired by Gray’s own childhood in 1980s New York City. The film stars Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong and will be released by Focus Features this fall.
AFF SECOND WAVE:
OPENING NIGHT SELECTION
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Samuel D. Hunter
Synopsis: From Darren Aronofsky comes The Whale, the story of a lonely English teacher living with severe obesity who tries to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption. Starring Brendan Fraser and based on the acclaimed play by Samuel D. Hunter.
In attendance: Writer Samuel D. Hunter
TIME OF ARMAGEDDON
Directed/Written by: James Gray
Synopsis: From acclaimed filmmaker James Gray, ARMAGEDDON TIME is a deeply personal reflection on the strength of family, the complexity of friendship, and the realities of class and privilege, as seen through the eyes of a young Jewish man growing up in Queens in the 1980s. The film features an all-star cast including Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway, and Jeremy Strong.
In attendance: Writer/Director James Gray
THE WILD MAN
Directed/Written by: Riley Cusick
Synopsis: A son cares for his father with a deteriorating mental condition where he believes he is a wild animal. The film cast includes Cusick, Larry Fessenden, Jenna Kanell and Kelli Maroney.
Directed/Written by: Jonathan Dekel
Written by: Shai Satran
Synopsis: Checkout follows Dov (Josh Pais), a desperate spy who must convince his teammates that he is telling the truth about a legendary terrorist. Trying one last time to become the myth he always thought he would be, Dov faces harsh reality determined to take him back. He will do anything to change their minds. Checkout is a black comedy based on real lies from real Mossad spies.
THE FIRE THAT TOOK HER
Directed by: Patricia E. Gillespie
Synopsis: Judy Malinowski, a mother of two, was doused in gasoline and set on fire by her crazed ex-boyfriend, becoming one of the first people to testify in her own murder trial. THE FIRE THAT TOOK HER delves into the historic case to ask a timely question: How much must women suffer to be believed?
Directed by: Sylvia Caminer
Synopsis: FOLLOW HER is a psycho-sexual thriller. Jess Peters, a struggling actress and live streamer, finally found her hook: secretly filming creepy interactions she finds through online job listings and using the problems of others to fuel her streaming success. . For her next episode, she was hired to write the end of a script in a luxurious remote cabin. Once there, the seductive self-proclaimed screenwriter hands him a script in which they are both the protagonists. This client is not what he seems, and while the money is big…the actual payout here could cost him his life.
FOR THE LOVE OF FRIENDS
Directed/written by: Cara Consilvio
Synopsis: In 1986, to wake America up from the AIDS crisis and to honor the friends he lost, Brent Nicholson Earle walks the perimeter of the United States. In The American Run for the End of AIDS, Brent runs nearly a marathon a day for 20 months straight. After enduring blisters, exhaustion, ignorance and fear, he returns home with his own HIV diagnosis. Although the race ends, Brent’s activism never stops.
Directed by: Jason Karman
Written By: Gorrman Lee
Synopsis: When basketball-obsessed Aleks moves in across the street, Asian-Canadian teen Jake finds himself trying out for the basketball team to get his attention in this classic coming-of-age drama set in the 1980s era. digital.
The full lineup of the Festival lineup, including more than 100 films and hundreds of panels, will be announced in late September.
ABOUT THE AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL:
The Austin Film Festival (AFF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the arts, crafts, and businesses of writers and filmmakers and recognizing their contributions to film, television, and new media. AFF champions the work of aspiring and established writers and filmmakers by providing unique cultural events and services, enhancing public awareness and engagement, and encouraging dynamic and enduring community partnerships. AFF is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department and the Texas Commission on the Arts. All attendees and events are based on permitted times and are subject to change and/or cancellation without notice.
ABOUT THE BILL WITTLIFF SCREENWRITING AWARD:
Introduced in 1995, the Austin Film Festival’s Bill Wittliff Screenwriting Award has honored leading storytellers in film, television and new media. Previous winners of the award include Buck Henry (1997), Lawrence Kasdan (2001), Nancy Meyers (2016), and Tony Gilroy (2018).