Contrast Fest focuses on films you might not otherwise see in Austin


Austin has another film festival.

The inaugural Contrast Film Festival wants to put the spotlight on “boundary-pushing, genre-defying and forward-thinking filmmaking with an emphasis on female and queer artists,” according to its website. The event, which kicks off July 20, includes films ranging from 2018’s “Shakedown” and “Narcissister Organ Player” to 1933’s “Female,” plus parties, stand-up sets and music from Viva Ruiz, House of Kenzo and more.

Fest organizers Tish Sparks and Jeremy von Stilb are film school graduates “who became DJs who then came together to become music event producers, filmmakers and now film programmers and festival founders,” said Sparks, who grew up in Ohio and has lived in Austin for about seven years. Von Stilb said he got his start throwing dance parties at Cheer Up Charlie’s “that had a bit of an activist bent to them. Tisha and I linked up to throw a South by Southwest showcase called Y’All Or Nothing that focused on queer and female musicians. … From there our creative relationship grew to us presenting films as well as creating short films with all the weirdos we met out at the clubs.”

We asked the founders to tell us more about what Contrast has to offer; answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What inspired you to create this event?

Sparks: We’d been doing a monthly film series (Homo Arigato, previously at the Alamo Drafthouse and now at AFS Cinema) for about three to four years, but it’d been primarily focused on showing older films from the queer film canon. As part of our curation of the monthly series, we would regularly come across exciting new films on the festival circuit we’d like to show, but they were either slightly outside the series’ scope or it was difficult to book them as a one-off while they were still playing festivals. So part of the motivation behind this event was to expand upon what we have been doing with film programming over the years to include newer films and films that weren’t specifically queer-themed. Additionally, Jeremy and I have been producing music and nightlife events together for the past seven years, and we wanted to create an event that would be a culmination of the stuff we’ve been doing, in music, nightlife, film and otherwise. This event gives us the opportunity to share films, music, performance/performers and ideas that we love or think are exciting that wouldn’t otherwise get presented in Austin.

Von Stilb: We are in the midst of this paradigm shift in our culture, and for us the filmmakers and the work they are making is representative of what’s happening in our country. Women, queer and gender nonconforming individuals are being heard louder than ever, and we want to celebrate the art that represents these radical voices that are really leading the way in our culture.

What do you want audiences to know about your event?

Sparks: I’d like for audiences to know that this is an opportunity to see and experience things you won’t get anywhere else. We have several films that are making their Texas debut at this festival after screening at major festivals and events across the world. Our opening night film, “Shakedown,” was part of the Whitney Biennial and the Teddy Award program in Berlin. Our other features have screened at Sundance, Toronto, Outfest in LA, Frameline in San Francisco, etc. Beyond the premieres, we are presenting a queer and female-focused comedy showcase featuring Casey Jane Ellison from Los Angeles and hometown hero (who’s coming back from LA for this event) Daniel Rugg Webb, an electronic music performance from artist and activist Viva Ruiz and an experimental video program guest curated by Amanda Justice, both from New York. Plus documentaries, shorts, DJs, VJs and more. I really think we have a little something for everyone.

Why is Austin a good fit for this event?

Sparks: Austin has been super supportive of our monthly screening series and of our music events, so we knew there was an audience for what we like to do. We wanted to combine our interests and efforts to create an event that reflected the identities and perspectives of the community we’ve been a part of for the last seven or so years and to give them something new to look forward to each summer. Austin, obviously, has such vibrant film, music, and arts communities who have an interest and enthusiasm for kind of out-there stuff, so we also hope to bring those groups together to share ideas and start new conversations.

Von Stilb: I think this festival is a summary of everything we’ve been doing, what we started together at places like Cheer Up Charlie’s and the Ritz. In a single weekend we can now intersect different formats and sometimes have artists presenting multiple works across different venues in the span of three days. Since the start of my career here, I’ve always felt like if you have an idea, Austin is one of the best places to make it a reality. The fantasy is real!

What other Austin events are you excited about as a consumer of culture?

Sparks: We are huge fans of Hyperreal Film Club, so much so that we invited them to guest curate one of the programs for this year’s festival. Their film screenings at the Museum of Human Achievement and in other nontheatrical venues are really fun, and you’re always going to see something great.

Von Stilb: Fusebox Festival always blows me away. A choir dueting with the bats under the Congress Bridge, the Blue Genie Art Bazaar warehouse gets converted into a large-scale dance theater, a 100-person conceptual speed dating night — it’s always wild and inspiring. I’ve learned a lot from observing how they let different types of artistic practices bleed into one another. They certainly have inspired how I want to take a different approach to presenting a film festival.



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