Texas’ Austin Film Society is a resource for the local film community, and with the project Docs-in-Progress, which critiques filmmakers’ works and offers advice, it is particularly beneficial to doc-makers. Realscreen spoke with Docs-in-Progress coordinator Bryan Poyser.
With decades of influential film and music under its pewter belt buckle, the creatively liberated capitol city of Austin, Texas has accrued a reputation for both hosting and producing an eclectic brand of media culture while maintaining its neighborly attitude. In other words, the local scene is sometimes, for some cultural endeavors, the center of the world.
The Austin Film Society, Texas’ ultimate resource for filmmakers, involves itself in the cinematic goings-on of Austin, from education to exhibition. Since 2005, AFS has been running the Docs-in-Progress program, which offers the documentary filmmaking community in Austin a critique of its up-and-coming projects. ‘The idea of the program is to both provide a service to filmmakers and to help encourage a sense of community among doc filmmakers in Austin,’ says Bryan Poyser, an Austin filmmaker who serves as the Director of Artist Services at AFS and coordinator of Docs-in-Progress.
Each documentary selected for the program, whether it’s close to a picture-lock or in mere edited sequences, is screened to an audience of some 25 local filmmakers and peers, from novices to knowledgeable doc-devotees. What follows is a moderated open discussion that provides the filmmaker with both written and oral feedback on structure, style and all things considered. ‘Usually the quiet ones have the best notes,’ laughs Poyser, ‘but they almost always wait until the end to speak up.’
The program remains dependent on filmmaker submissions, which results in an influx closer to major festival deadlines, so generally speaking, six to 10 docs-in-progress take part in the program in one year. At the beginning of December, Sundance Film Festival announced their official selections, and the Docs-in-Progress committee was pleased to see one of its own in the line-up. Austin filmmaker Michel Orion Scott’s Over the Hills and Far Away is a chronicle of the Isaacson family’s journey through Mongolia in search of a mysterious shaman they believe can heal their autistic son.
Scott’s film was close to being completed when it was selected for Docs-in-Progress. Says the filmmaker, ‘We needed that extra bit of feedback and constructive criticism before going forward to the final stage of editing.’ After two years of working on his first feature documentary, Scott felt his objective opinion was slipping. ‘I needed fresh eyes from people who were not deeply connected to the story. The feedback we received gave us the confidence to move forward towards completion.’ That successfully resulted in the selection of Over the Hills… in Sundance’s Documentary Competition, where it screens among 16 other docs selected from 879 submissions.
With programs like Doc-in-Progress, it’s likely that Austin films will continue to be plucked by prestigious festivals. Scott agrees, as ‘the Austin community has a lot of stories to tell… more and more filmmakers are creating exciting new documentaries. I think that Austin could be re-emerging as a center for fresh talent and encouraging originality.’