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What we’re looking forward to at Austin Film Festival 2020

Matthew Odam
"The Catch" brings a story of drugs and family drama to the Austin Film Festival, which starts virtually on Thursday.

The Austin Film Festival’s traditions of crowded parties, red carpets dotted with smiling celebrities and in-person networking events have all been put on ice for this year’s iteration of the festival.

The vast majority of this year’s event will happen online. But there will still be plenty of movies, panels and Q&A sessions with filmmaking talent. And think of the upsides for (hopefully) just this one year: no long lines to get into the theater, no fears of missing one movie to see another, and less money spent on concessions. And you can attend almost the entire thing in your pajamas.

The strangest AFF in the event’s 27-year history kicks off Thursday and runs through Oct. 29. Badge and pass holders for the mostly virtual festival (three in-person live events will be held for limited audiences) will be able to access more than three dozen films, including 15 world premieres, approximately 40 panels, mentor sessions and roundtable discussions, all through an online portal during the festival’s run. They’ll have the ability to watch films during a 24-hour window on the timeline of their choosing. Individual tickets for virtual screenings are also available to the general public for $10 and can be purchased in advance at watch.eventive.org/austinfilmfestival2020.

And while the Driskill Bar won’t be packed every night with a mix of filmmakers and fans, the festival is hosting several virtual hangs for attendees, giving them the chance to schmooze with fellow festgoers and industry insiders.

While it’s hard to find a common thread that weaves throughout the dozens of original films at this year’s AFF, festival senior film program director Casey Baron says the team kept mental health, representation and diversity at the top of mind while surveying the more than 5,000 titles submitted for entry. As always, the prime criteria remain: “Keeping an eye out for solid narratives and story,” Baron said.

Here’s a list of 10 films, panels and people we look forward to seeing during the festival. Find the full lineup at austinfilmfestival.com.

“The Badger”: Baron says that in this atmospheric drama, Iranian filmmaker Kazem Mollaie shows his native country through a lens that may be unfamiliar to global audiences; it’s a story that is at once very specific to Iran and also universal in its appeal. Available for virtual screening beginning 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Mollaie will appear in recorded conversation following virtual screenings.

“Barry” creators Bill Hader and Alec Berg will discuss how they blend terror, humanity and humor in their pitch-black HBO comedy. Streaming of the taped conversation is available starting 1:30 p.m. Friday.

“The Catch”: Drugs, familial drama and questionable morality set against the moody Maine coastline? Count us in for Matthew Ya-Hsiung Balzer’s feature directorial debut. Available for virtual screening beginning 7 p.m. Thursday. Balzer will appear in recorded conversation following virtual screenings.

“Fugitive Dreams”: Austinite Jason Neulander was the creative director of the Salvage Vanguard Theater for more than a decade and the mastermind behind the epic sci-fi spectacular “The Intergalactic Nemesis,” so we’re all in for his feature directorial debut. Available for virtual screening beginning 8:15 p.m. Saturday. Neulander will appear in recorded conversation following virtual screenings. World premiere.

“The Get Together”: Remember what it was like to go to house parties? Remember when coming of age didn’t involve dealing with a global pandemic? Yeah, us neither. But we’re happy to let director Will Bakke’s Austin-shot film take us back to those simpler, more carefree times. World premiere 6 p.m. Saturday at the Paramount Theatre and available for virtual screening beginning 7 p.m. Sunday. Walk-up tickets will be available for the Saturday premiere, though festival badge and pass holders can sign up in advance and have seating priority. Bakke will appear in Q&A at the theater following the premiere and in recorded conversation following virtual screenings.

“Horton Foote: The Road to Home”: Former Robert Altman collaborator and Austinite Anne Rapp’s long-awaited documentary takes a warm look at the life and career of Texas writing legend and Pulitzer Prize winner Horton Foote, who penned the screenplays for “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Tender Mercies,” the film on which Rapp began her Hollywood career. World premiere 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Paramount Theatre and available for virtual screening beginning 7 p.m. Sunday. Walk-up tickets will be available for the Saturday premiere, though festival badge and pass holders can sign up in advance and have seating priority. Rapp will appear in Q&A at the theater following the premiere and in recorded conversation following virtual screenings.

Kevin Willmott, who has written Spike Lee’s last two features (“BlacKkKlansman” and “Da 5 Bloods”) and is on tap to direct an Arthur Ashe biopic, should bring sharp insight to the current moments of American sociopolitical and cinematic discourse. Live conversation at 3:15 p.m. Friday, and then available for streaming.

“Nine Days”: Edson Oda won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year for this indie genre film that explores meaning and “posits a philosophical thought that could be interesting and poignant for a large portion of our audience,” says Baron. Oda and cast members Winston Duke and Zazie Beetz will participate in a live post-screening Q&A following the opening night film’s first virtual screening at 7 p.m. Thursday. The taped conversation will then follow all virtual screenings of the film during the fest.

Virtual Driskill Bar with Phil Rosenthal: Worried folks might miss the networking and socializing scene that takes place at the Driskill Bar each night in normal years, the fest is presenting a virtual experience. Creator of “Somebody Feed Phil” and professional dinner guest Rosenthal will play virtual host for the evening on a group Zoom chat before people branch out into breakout rooms to make new friends and possibly sip on a cocktail recipe offered by the Driskill Bar. Event only available to registered badge holders.

“Utopia” creator Gillian Flynn appears in conversation to unravel her new Amazon Prime show, which weaves sci-fi and humor. And maybe someone will get in a question or two about “Gone Girl.” Live conversation at 3 p.m. Sunday, and then available for streaming.

More information

What: The Austin Film Festival runs Oct. 22-29, with a trio of screenings at the Paramount Theatre and all other events held virtually.

Pricing: Virtual film badge, $200; virtual student film badge, $150; virtual film pass, $30

Online: Schedule, tickets and details on how to navigate the virtual event at austinfilmfestival.com.

Jason Neulander, the former longtime creative director of the Salvage Vanguard Theater, presents the world premiere of his feature directorial debut, "Fugitive Dreams," at the mostly virtual Austin Film Festival.