Exclusive story for ArtsAliveSA
May 8, 2023–When Chad Matthews, then a Los Angeles-based actor, writer, and producer, decided to start an independent film festival back in 2010, why did he choose Fredericksburg, a tiny Texas town far from the hills of Hollywood?
“Fredericksburg is kind of like my second home,” he said in an interview at the time. “As I was getting some of my short films into festivals, I always had thoughts of Fredericksburg in the back of my head. Such a charming town would be ideal for a festival–it has the people and resources to handle it.”
And so began the Hill Country Film Festival.
The now Executive Director’s intuition has proven to be accurate. With its burgeoning wine industry and growing numbers of galleries and restaurants, this Texas Hill Country community has become a center for visitors seeking the finer things in life. That includes the people who create and consume independent films.
Back at the beginning, Matthews started small. The festival featured two days with five individual blocks of screenings.
Before the pandemic, the HCFF had grown to screen more than 100 films. It is steadily working its way back to those numbers as aficionados venture out into movie theaters. This year organizers will screen 56 films, carefully curated from several hundred to reflect the interests of the event patrons. These include nine feature films and 47 short films representing six countries, along with panel discussions, evening parties, and a Sunday Sendoff and awards program.
Six years ago, they added a category for short films fully produced and directed by high school and college student filmmakers.
The HCFF now is annually presented by the Hill Country Film Society, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that not only hosts the annual festival, but provides year-round independent film programming in the Texas Hill Country as well as education in the art of independent film.
While the HCFF has grown in size, scope, and reputation, it cherishes its small-town vibe. One of the appeals remains the accessibility and informality for those who want to share theater seats with actors, producers, and writers. No red carpets here.
“Originally the idea was just to screen great movies,” Matthews explained. “But over the years I noticed the best parts of the film festival was the ‘Q & A’ after the screenings. So we incorporated more education components.”
That “up close and personal touch” is what makes any festival experience richer.
“We realized we can’t always get the folks to the filmmakers, so we need to bring the filmmakers to them,” Matthews said. “This is better than going to a movie. People let their guard down so you can have a conversation. I prefer going to a place where there is that interaction that you don’t have when you go to a movieplex.”
Some of the notables that have appeared are David Arquette, Dennis Quaid, Ellar Coltrane, Liana Liberato, and Jake Lacy.
The gathering is less about competition and more bout support for the independent filmmaker.
“It is a tough struggle to be an independent filmmaker,” Matthews said. “We just want to meet everyone, get together, and cheer each other on.”
Even back in 2010, Matthews dared hope the HCFF would develop into a destination film festival, a “really special Texas event.”
Has he accomplished that?
“I think we have,” he said. “What I notice has changed from that first year is that we have grown to have a reputation that’s known throughout the film industry in Texas. That Hill Country hospitality has made it a lot of fun for out-of-town guests, so that people are putting it on their calendar as the one festival to attend.”
2023 Programming Highlights
OFFICIAL SELECTIONS – NARRATIVE FEATURE FILMS
Chocolate Lizards | USA | Dramedy | Mark Lambert Bristol
A Texas-made film with a handful of Texas-based actors, Chocolate Lizards is a “crazy fun-filled adventure to outwit the bank, the sheriff, and a corrupt oil company… in Buffalo Gap, Texas.”
One of the producers lives in Fredericksburg, where the team met to work on pre-production. Actors Thomas Hayden Church and Rudy Pankow are slated to appear at the screening.
Deadland | USA | Drama | Lance Larson
Good Egg | USA| Comedy | Nicole Gomez Fisher
I Like Movies | Canada | Dramedy | Chandler Levack
Match Me If You Can | USA | Comedy | Marian Yeager
OFFICIAL SELECTIONS – DOCUMENTARY FEATURE FILMS
Cowboy Bourbon: The Full Proof Tale of Garrison Brothers | USA | Chet Garner and Daniel Mecey
Directors Chet Garner and Daniel Mecey, lovers of bourbon, discovered the best bourbon in the world was being made in one of the most unlikely places – the Texas Hill Country – and that it’s backed up by an inspiring story of Texas grit and refusal to compromise. This film is the story of the first legal bourbon distillery outside the state of Kentucky.
Juneteenth: Faith & Freedom | USA | Ya’Ke Smith
The Lady Bird Diaries | USA | Dawn Porter
This 1 hour 40 minute documentary, originally screened and spotlighted at SXSW Film Festival, is based on the book Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight by Julia Sweig. The story was based on 123 hours of audiotapes that Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson recorded during her husband’s five years in the White House, outlining how Lady Bird redefined the role of the First Lady, embarking on projects that are still being carried out.
Oklahoma Breakdown | USA | Christopher Charles Fitzpatrick
This documentary was shot in Austin, Ft. Worth, Dallas, and New Braunfels, and follows musician Mike Hosty.
OFFICIAL SELECTIONS – DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILMS
Batsies | USA | Elizabeth Unger
A Boat for my Brother | USA | Matthew Boyd
Breaking Silence | USA | Amy Bench and Annie Silverstein
From Dreams to Dust | Indonesia | Muhammad Fadli and Stephanie Tangkilisan
Grey Horse | USA | Emil Lozada
Tessa | USA | Megan Dahl
You are Me & I am You | Ecuador | Melissa Kirkendall
The 14th Hill Country Film Festival (HCFF), presented by the Hill Country Film Society, will be held in Fredericksburg, Texas, June 1–4, 2023.
Screenings will take place at two locations:
The Great Hall at Hoffman Haus | 601 East Creek Street, Fredericksburg
Historic Nimitz Ballroom | 304 East Main Street, Fredericksburg
The event is open to the public, and includes screenings of short and feature length independent films, filmmaker Q&As, panel discussions, festival parties ,and more.
All-Access badges are offered for sale. Details, schedule, locations, admission, and the complete film lineup can be found on the festival website at www.hillcountryff.com.