By Rachel Ambelang
Every October, independent filmmakers and established Hollywood names flock to Austin for the Austin Film Festival. Keeping in tune with Austin’s determination to be different, this festival has one major focus that sets it apart from all the others before it: the writer as the key to a great film.
Most festivals give all the acclamation to the directors of the film, or the actors if they can get ahold of them. Austin Film Festival does that as well, but is unique in its active celebration and curiosity about the world of the screenwriter. The executive director of the festival, Barbara Morgan, said in the festival program, “This festival was the first to spotlight the writer. We understood 18 years ago that every good film has its origin in a great screenplay.”
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell supported the festival’s cause and explained its place in film selection in a letter found in the program.
“We know that the writer plays an integral part in the moviemaking business and that the festivals play a vital role in showcasing films — studio and independent — with compelling narratives, characters and dialogue,” Leffingwell wrote.
Several successful writers attended Austin Film Festival this year, many were there to mentor and answer emerging writers’ questions — many of whom came simply for that opportunity.
One writer whose presence was especially important was Caroline Thompson. She was there to accept Austin Film Festival’s Distinguished Screenwriter Award, presented by Johnny Depp, whom she worked with on her first film, “Edward Scissorhands.”
Although Thompson attempted to adapt her first novel, “First Born,” for the screen, the film was never made. It was because of this off-beat novel that Thompson met and eventually wrote a screenplay for Tim Burton, director of “Edward Scissorhands.”
A special screening of “Edward Scissorhands” was played at the Paramount Theatre on Friday night in honor of both Thompson and Depp.
Before the movie began, Thompson described her inspiration for the screenplay.
“It’s about being a dog,” she said. “It’s about being a complete and utter innocent who wants to participate, wants to join in, who wants to be the center of things, but can’t and really doesn’t get it, try as he might.”
Depp’s new film, “The Rum Diary,” played before “Edward Scissorhands.” In the Q-and-A afterwards Depp said this film allowed both him and Austin Film Festival to honor the late writer who first inspired the film, Hunter S. Thompson. Depp discovered the manuscript for Hunter’s book while living with Hunter in preparation for the film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” After encouragement from Depp, Hunter published the novel in 1998, and the duo immediately began planning the film adaptation. Hunter died in 2005 and never saw the finished product. The film became more of a kept promise to Depp than a routine project.
“My favorite part was delivering that dream to [Hunter], delivering that idea that we had talked about all those years ago,” Depp said.