Nobody does it better. Glamour. Culture. Laughter. Tears.
Months in advance, Austinites anticipate the Texas Film Awards, staged by the Austin Film Society. Guests are rarely disappointed by this pre-South by Southwest bellringer.
First, you get a peek at the most recent changes at the Austin Studios, the physical and spiritual home of the Texas TV and movie industry. Thanks to party captains Bobbi Topfer and Armando Zambrano, the tall, raw spaces turned into elegant, candlelit retreat. Because it was catered by the Four Seasons Hotel, food, drinks and service were top shelf.
For years, the Society has rolled out the hottest red carpet in town. That hasn’t changed much. Good for photos and video. Not so much for actual news, which is why we hung back and interviewed guests in the welcome tent. The requested cocktail attire took on infinite forms, with just a hint of Western flair a common theme.
The live auction by Heath Hale and associates helped boost the gross take for the party over $800,000, according to a quick tally. Nobody at our table bid. Since many of my table mates work for the Four Seasons, they had, however, arranged for some of the desirable vacation stays on the block.
All heads turned to the stage for the awards, emceed this year by Mike Judge in sardonic mode. I suspect the Film Society’s Rebecca Campbell encourages her emcees to stir the pot a bit. While Judge pushed the boundaries of taste at times — bravo! — at least he didn’t call the governor a “gay robot,” as Thomas Haden Church did a few years back. (Different governor, different times.)
Accepting the first award was, not Luke Wilson, who was stuck on a New Mexico movie set, but his buddy and music impresario Charles Attal, courageous in the breach. Judge gave posthumous honors to Christopher Evan Welch, a gloriously eccentric actor who appeared in Judge’s series “Silicon Valley.” As usual, the clips were astonishing.
Robert Rodriguez lavished praise on fellow director Guillermo Del Toro, who lived in Austin briefly 15 years ago, but bonded deeply with the local film community and was a natural choice for the Honorary Texan honors. Del Toro was joined by Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black lionizing L.M. Kit Carson, the deceased promoter of Texas film in many guises.
Loved the stories shared by actor Jess Weixler about super-producer Bonnie Curtis — backed in a video tribute by Steven Spielberg — a Texan who apparently can’t take “no” for an answer. (Curtis goes way back with the divine Victoria Corcoran from Dallas days.)
The two last honors put the guests through the emotional ringer. Author Bill Wittliff brought out Tommy Lee Jones, who spoke softly, slowly and, in some cases, elliptically about the luck of “being from a place.” Finally, the director, cast and crew of “Boyhood” stormed the stage. Patricia Arquette declared: “I came to Austin 13 years ago and fell in love.”
Rightly, various speakers pegged “Boyhood” as the culmination of making films the Austin way. It might not have taken the highest honors at the recent Academy Awards, but it showed the world just what Austin, Austin filmmakers and the Austin Film Society can do. I expect it get even better.