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This past weekend, I attended the Austin Film Festival at 600 Congress Ave. At my side, 20 other theater students had passes to attend.

Throughout the four-day writer’s conference and eight days of screenings, I met numerous literary agents and managers, spoke with acclaimed screenwriters and heard firsthand accounts of working in the entertainment industry. It was a learning and networking experience unlike any I’ve experienced in my four years at Texas State, and it is a crucial event for film students.

As the B.F.A. film production major enters its third-year next fall, the annual Austin Film Festival should be added to the major’s curriculum. One of the top-rated festivals in the U.S. is so close to home, and the Department of Theatre and Dance should work to provide travel and ticket funding for B.F.A. film production students.

With student tickets at $225 a pop, entrance to the festival is not cheap. Nick Muller, a film production junior, purchased a ticket for this year’s festival and said it was an incredible opportunity.

"I think I did more networking at AFF than I have in my entire professional career,” Muller said.

As an up-and-coming filmmaker, this networking opportunity was important for Muller, who hopes to graduate in three semesters and begin a filmmaking career.

Jazz Neal, a performance and production junior, also shared this amazing networking experience. She had never attended a professional festival, conference or networking event, and the panels gave her renewed career inspiration.

"I learned at AFF the fact that you really can start from nothing, and you can make your way through the industry, like, forge your own path," Neal said.

Neal got a lucky free ticket this year, since Texas State's Film Club offered an application for 20 free student tickets, donated by the Chief Executive Officer of the Austin Film Festival, Barbara Morgan. Had these tickets not been up for raffle, Neal would have been unable to attend.

Muller, on the other hand, had enough money set aside this year to pay for a ticket, but he said he'll have to save up for next year's festival.

The 20 free tickets currently offered are a great start to getting film students to the festival, however, the program can do more. With 48 students in the film production major and 115 in Film Club, department heads should band together to raise money for more tickets or ask the university for help so that no students miss out on the opportunity.

"I know a lot of people that really would have liked to go," Neal said. "I think that given the opportunity, people really would take it."

In addition to ticket funding, Texas State could provide transportation to take students to Austin. Weeks before, Muller set up a GroupMe to flesh out carpools, and this student-driven system worked great. However, with the long festival days and alcohol-filled parties, a trained driver who could ensure safe travel back to campus would be a better option.

In 2019, Texas saw 3,623 deaths in automobile crashes. Of those, only two were from school buses and 19 from passenger buses, versus 1,749 from passenger cars. Nationwide, on Saturday nights (when the festival holds its biggest party), 2,346 people lost their lives between 8:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. This increase in evening crashes could be due to tired driving, alcohol consumption or impaired vision at night. With a trained bus driver, these accidents could be avoided.

Not only would a bus be a safer option, but it might be more cost efficient. A week’s worth of gas on a normal car ranges around $36, plus $70-210 for the week of parking also rakes in a hefty tab. Although students this year carpooled to split the cost, a typical 56-seater bus could fit the whole program inside and ensure students could stay the entire event.

"I really want people to enjoy the whole conference," Johnny McAllister, head of the film production area, said. "There were some folks who were only able to go a day or half a day, but you really should go the full time."

According to McAllister, this ticket and transit funding could be possible.

"We'd have to raise money for it through some sort of fundraiser," McAllister said. "Or we could probably approach a donor, and they'd have to subsidize additional badges for the student filmmakers."

McAllister plans to create a class for graduating seniors to prepare for the industry, where students will create a website, build their portfolio, and, possibly, he said, attend the Austin Film Festival. He said this festival seems to be in high demand, and he's open to suggestions on how to make it happen.

McAllister wants as many student filmmakers as possible to attend and many students who missed it to attend next fall. So, to Texas State Department of Theatre and Dance: take steps to find a donor for funding. Students: start saving money to attend. Wealthy local donors: support up-and-coming filmmakers to learn, network and continue Texas State's legacy at this festival.

- Payton Russell is an acting senior

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