Barbara Morgan reflects on life in production since adorning the cover of Austin Woman.
By Brena Ullrich, Photos by Jack Plunkett
It’s been almost a decade since Barbara Morgan, founder and chief executive officer of the Austin Film Festival (AFF), graced the cover of Austin Woman in 2013. Much has changed. In the last nine years, Morgan has continued to build onto the festival’s presence in Austin, produce numerous works and raise a teenager, all while navigating the challenges of a worldwide pandemic and the ever-shifting city she calls home.
Though life has continually been moving and growing for Morgan, she admits that the last three or so years have brought on the most change. “Producing live event work during a global pandemic is oxymoronic,” Morgan sighs. She laughs while thinking back to the tough days of endless problem-solving for AFF. The staff had to spend extra time figuring out the drastically different landscape that AFF found itself in. Much mental and emotional adjustment took place. And a lot of time went into checking in with the staff to make sure they were doing okay.
Back to “Normal”
After the break in 2020, the festival attendees were eager to be back amongst their people, and the energy was tangible. However, these past two years of production have not been without challenges. “When we opened back up, Austin was a different town,” Morgan says. As one of the fastest growing cities in the States, long gone is the time of running into people you know on the street, something Morgan had experienced for the last 38 years of living in Austin. Figuring out how to steer through the changing atmosphere in Austin has proven almost as challenging as running the festival through a global pandemic, which is saying a lot. “The real shocker was how much harder it was to do what we do, in a town that we’ve been doing this in for 30 years,” Morgan explains.
“The film industry is not being attended to in the way it has been before,” she continues. With a dwindling number of films being shot in Austin, it raises questions about the state of the industry’s future here. “We fed it, and it fed us.”
One question has weighed on Morgan’s mind. “How can we continue to be an exciting place and home for creatives to be?” As a city built by creatives, Morgan has high hopes that the heart of Austin is still beating and this city will find its way back to what built it.
Barbara Morgan, On Story and Other Visions
Morgan’s other main project, AFF’s TV show, On Story, has experienced substantial growth in the past decade as well. The show debuted on PBS in 2011 and is now available across almost the entire country. On Story has also branched out into a podcast, radio, book and an archive in The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University. One of the entire series’ main goals is to provide accessible content to inspire creativity and demystify the process of filmmaking. The show has added significantly to the festival and takes up about half of all the work that Morgan does. More recently, she helped to produce an indie feature film called You Are Not Alone. A story of how two estranged siblings rekindle under stressful circumstances and realize they will always be connected. Morgan plans to continue producing in the future, both in TV and film.
Morgan’s vision for all the work she has done has not wavered. She showcases her dedication to sharing creativity and offering people the means to break into such a touchy industry in the growth of programs like On Story and in projects like the Young Filmmakers Program, which she is especially proud of. The program opens its arms to students ages 9 to 18 and includes four main elements. The Young Filmmakers Competition, an annual summer film camp, the Festival and Conference Scholarship program and an in-school digital storytelling program.
Commitment to Creativity
She and her whole team are committed to the writers and the storytellers and have no intention of ever straying from this vision. Most of AFF’s future growth centers on bringing in elements that are tangential to the writers. Recently, the festival introduced the art of gaming to the event, including panels such as “Writing for Video Games: Cohesion and Collaboration” and a game-writing competition during the 2021 season. Acknowledging the craft and skill of developing art forms is one of the ways AFF is preparing for the future.
Morgan is hopeful for what will follow in the years to come. She’s thinking constantly about what the next five, 10 or 20 years will look like. For her career and the festival. “Anybody in this space right now who isn’t thinking [about the future]is either ready to go or they’re foolish.” Her advice for those facing the future of their careers: “Persistence over passion. Look forward to what you could have, be persistent and evaluate what keeps you going.”