Back when I started my company, I interviewed a young woman for an assistant position and walked her through the stresses of the job of managing prickly PR clients. In the end, I asked her if she thought she could do it. Her answer surprised me: “Well,” she said, “I’m from Texas, and I can handle anything y’all can throw at me.” I thought to myself: could that really be enough? And you know what? There’s just something about Texas.
In that spirit, come along with us to the fourth edition of the Waco Family & Faith International Film Festival, which brushed aside a freak second year in a row of foul weather to present an impressive and uplifting slate of 31 feature, short, student, and animated films from around the world focusing on diversity/BIPOC programming, inspiration and celebration of the human spirit. Many films competed for Grand Jury Prizes following three days of screenings, dance, golf, fashion, and filmmaker education in venues across Waco, from the historic Hippodrome Theatre to the Pivovar, the remarkable Czech-themed brewery, restaurant, and hotel that served as de facto Festival headquarters.
“Our growth and strength build every year, and it’s our community and our sponsors that are responsible for that,” begins Festival Founder, Executive Director, and chief evangelist Dr. Tyrha Lindsey-Warren. “That community comprises our local residents and supporters, from students to seniors; our visiting community of filmmakers who came to Texas from far-flung New York City, Los Angeles, and abroad; festival enthusiasts and the more than a dozen sponsors that enable us to show our films and year-round programs.”
“…31 feature, short, student, and animated films from around the world focusing on diversity/BIPOC programming, inspiration and celebration of the human spirit.”
The damaging ice and snowstorm that cut power, felled trees and outbuildings, and snarled air and auto traffic across central Texas claimed only one Festival victim: the Wednesday Ozomatli concert, which Lindsey-Warren promised to present under the auspices of the Festival later this season.
Filmmakers and industry executives came in numbers anyway, defying the elements to attend the Festival. We landed in sleet and freezing rain in Austin after two days of canceled flights and undertook a white-knuckled drive two hours up I-35 as the temperature dropped below freezing and the wipers smeared semi-truck sludge across the windscreen which caked conveniently at its edges. With the storm at my back, threatening to overtake me, I didn’t dare pull over for fear of being stuck on Texas’ evil, ubiquitous “service roads,” which flank all major highways but confound visitors. I did pass by “the world’s largest convenience store”–Buc-ees–“a chain of travel centers known for clean bathrooms and many fueling positions (I counted 40),” and whose happy beaver billboards promise “eat at Buc-ees, get gas” and pepper the Interstate for 150 miles in either direction—a Texas-style “South of the Border.” But we pressed on.
I got to the Pivovar at 9:05, minutes after the Festival’s new opening night: its second annual “Fashion & Style Show” reception and shopping event at Art Center Waco, which featured celebrity stylist Deborah Koenigsberger presenting fashions from her New York boutique Noir et Blanc, local student models and the WFFFF’s 4th annual class of “Champion Awards” recipients, which honored exemplars of innovation and “good disruption” in the arts. The 2023 Champions Award recipients included multiple award-winning animation artist, director, and producer, Bruce W. Smith, who is the creator and executive producer of “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder” on Disney+; the legendary television producer, Ralph Farquhar, who is the executive producer of “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder” on Disney+; Latin Grammy-Award winner, OZOMATLI; and award-winning TV journalists, Ke’Sha Lopez and Pete Sousa, co-anchors of the morning news show on KWTX-TV/Ch.10-CBS in Waco and Central Texas. Everyone except for Ozomatli was on hand to collect their awards.