Lake Travis Film Festival could be big for area

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For about the last four months, Bee Cave resident Kat Albert said she has been working 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

As the executive director of the Lake Travis Film Festival, Albert said that is a pretty standard workload for someone working to create a major event that will be spread across two cities in the Lake Travis area that, as of mid-August, is less than seven months away.

“I am a working filmmaker, but not right now,” Albert said. “Just getting that [the festival]in motion was a lot more work than I thought it was going to be.”

Albert said she is doing much of the public relations, design and scheduling work herself, but she also has a main team of about 12 people broken down into several groups, including committees earmarked for membership, sponsorship, accommodations and the end-of-festival awards banquet.

Albert said right now and through Sept. 15, a major focus is on boosting film submissions. As of the end of July LTFF has received 70.

Albert said she has also been traveling to shore up interest in the festival, most recently in Dallas with other meetups planned for San Antonio in August and Houston in September.

Albert said while the Lake Travis area should help bring people to the festival, she sees it as an event that will not necessarily focus on any one theme, but it should show authentic and hopeful films that will help foster discussion and growth.

For the inaugural year, Albert said she and her crew hope to show about 86 projects, including short and feature-length films, short and feature-length documentaries, music videos and student films.

Local economic impact

February 2020 will mark LTFF’s first year, and Albert said because of that it is not possible to say how much it will bring to the Lakeway and Bee Cave economies.

Hotel occupancy tax requirements from both cities stipulate Albert must document certain economic revenue. Among many other conditions, Albert must provide evidence of the number of stays at local hotels that pertained directly to the festival, and she must provide monthly reports of all receipts and expenditures of allocated money from the hotel tax funds meted out by each city.

But as far as predicting other gains for local businesses brought on by LTFF, Albert said that will be much easier to present for the festival’s second year and beyond.

For now, she said she estimates about $27,000 for local hotels based on 180 room nights for the duration of the event. She said about $40,000 will go to local event locations for rental and hospitality fees. Roughly $20,000 will go to local businesses for audio-visual equipment and services.

“We’re doing a banquet in the Sonesta [Bee Cave Austin hotel], and we’re doing a couple of meals in the ballrooms of the Lakeway Resort,” she said. “We’re spending a lot of money with those hotels.”

The after-parties planned for each day of the event should also pump money into many local businesses, she said.

Hotel tax allocation

By law, hotel tax money must be used to promote tourism and may be allocated for a broad range of uses within that charge, from advertising to paying visiting artists’ fees. LTFF’s first successful bid for $40,000 in hotel tax funding came during Lakeway’s May 20 City Council meeting. Albert received another $40,000 from Bee Cave June 25.

Bee Cave Council Member Andrea Willott said she had reservations about allocating money to LTFF because there is not enough information regarding what it could do for the city, but she ended up voting in favor of the request.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I am not opposed to at least seeing if this will bring tourism in,” Willott said, adding another factor that helped push her toward approval was Albert’s presentation to Bee Cave, which included support from well-known local industry professionals such as Adam Woolley, who owns the Star Hill Ranch on Hamilton Pool Road in Bee Cave.

“Adam has worked with lots of people in Hollywood and knows people,” Willott said.

LTFF potential venues

Throughout July, Albert had been working to solidify contracts with several venues throughout Lakeway and Bee Cave.

Albert confirmed most of the venues planned for LTFF should have a 150- to 200-person capacity, including including the Lakeway Activity Center, the Sonesta Bee Cave Austin Hotel and the Star Hill Ranch, which is right now planned as the centerpiece of the March 1 LTFF schedule.

Woolley, who purchased 31 acres on Hamilton Pool Road just south of Hwy. 71 for what would eventually become the Star Hill Ranch in 1998, said many projects have been filmed at his venue, including the second season of the AMC show “The Son.”

The tentative schedule for LTFF bills March 1 as industry day and features a community open house at Star Hill Ranch.

“The plan is to screen Texas-based films all day, although the film festival will include some films from outside of Texas as well, but I think we’re going to focus on Texas-based films and highlight anything that we can pull together on a reel that has actually been filmed here in the Lakeway-Bee Cave-Dripping Springs areas over the years,” Woolley said.

Growing a film festival

About 90 miles north of San Francisco in Northern Sonoma County is the Alexander Valley Film Festival, which Executive Director Katharine Hecht founded in 2014.

The fifth annual Alexander Valley Film Festival will be this October, and Hecht said the event’s central focus is about building communities through film.

Similar to the hotel occupancy tax in Texas, Hecht said each year she has requested and received funding allocated through the board of supervisors at the county level called the transit occupancy tax.

The transit occupancy tax funding her festival receives amounts to less than 5% of her annual budget—about $7,500, Hecht said.

Unlike LTFF, the nearest “big” city is Santa Rosa, which has a population of about 150,000, and Hecht said the area is rural and does not have advantages that come from being near a major metropolitan area such as Austin.

Still, from 2014 to the most recent 2018 event, Hecht said AVFF has grown substantially. For the first year of the event, Hecht said she spent $60,000. The festival now has a $300,000 budget.

“It’s the same with audiences,” she said. “The first year we had [screenings with]two, three, four, five [people in attendance], and now we have a festival and a year-round organization that serves more than 5,000 people every year.”

Regarding LTFF, Hecht said the geography of the Lake Travis area, which she described as a unique, pristine location, could end up being a major asset. That, coupled with its proximity to Austin, itself a major tourist draw, creates ample marketing potential for LTFF, she said.

Brian Gannon, director of the Austin Film Commission, said there are more than 30 film festivals in Central Texas right now, and Albert is already in a good position, as there is nothing like LTFF in the Lake Travis area.

“There has not been too much done in that [Lake Travis] area as far as screening films and bringing in panelists and industry folks to interact with the community,” he said. “I think there is certainly an audience out there.”

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Brian Rash
Brian has been a reporter and editor since 2012. He wrote about the music scene in Dallas-Fort Worth before becoming managing editor for the Graham Leader in Graham, Texas, in 2013. He relocated to Austin, Texas, in 2015 to work for Gatehouse Media's large design hub. He became the editor for the Lake Travis-Westlake publication of Community Impact in August 2018.
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