Alumna brings diversity to Austin Film Festival through screenwriting

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UT alumna April Sánchez’s script “Daughters Lost to the Desert” will be featured at Austin Film Festival.
Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

The murders of hundreds of Mexican women across the border from her hometown left a lasting impact on alumna April Sánchez’s community. Years later, Sánchez brought those women who have since been forgotten to the forefront of her screenplay. 

“I’m from El Paso, and the femicide happened right across the border,” Sánchez said. “The killers were never brought to justice. Every report I saw came from a foreign perspective, and I wanted to tell the story through the women’s perspective.”

Sánchez’s script, “Daughters Lost to the Desert,” centers around a temperamental mother, accused of being a murderous vigilante, who seeks justice for the death of her daughter. Her work will be featured by the Austin Film Festival, a screenwriting competition held near campus from Oct. 13–20. While other festivals may spotlight directing or other aspects of film, the Austin Film Festival focuses mainly on amateur and professional screen writing.

The festival receives more scripts than any other writing competition of its kind. To Sánchez, her writing serves as an avenue to increase representation of minorities in the film industry by featuring Latina women front and center.

“If we, as the media makers, can show people that there is an audience for characters of color, [the film industry] can change,” Sánchez said. “Film festivals do help. Things come out at festivals like Sundance and that translates to the mainstream.”           

Gabbi Lindgren, screenplay competition administrative coordintor, works to include diverse screenplays in the festival.

“Diversity is really important to us. We have over 60 percent women participating,” Lindgren said. “We are looking to champion stories and really focus on the story itself. Unlike some other competitions, we don’t focus as heavily on formating and things like that. Our biggest focus is story and great characters.” 

As well as screenplays that feature real-life events, Sánchez also submitted a horror film to the festival that she began creating for an assignment in radio-television-film lecturer Beau Thorne’s class. The script blossomed into a finalized project titled “The Trickster and the Demon,” focusing on a con artist who has to banish a demon from her brother’s body, despite not believing in the supernatural. Sánchez said Thorne’s class was crucial to getting her film polished and ready for competition. 

“After that class ended, I continued to work on it, and sure enough it placed [at Austin Film Festival,]” Sánchez said.

Thorne said having a script in the festival is a great way to garner attention from producers. 

“Doing well in a top competition like AFF gives your script an objective stamp of approval that might convince a producer or manager to spend time reading a script by an unknown writer,” Thorne said. 

Sánchez said her time at UT taught her a lot, especially the semester she spent in the UTLA program, where she interned with one of Quentin Tarantino’s producers, Stacey Sher. Besides writing for herself, Sánchez said one of her main goals is getting these films picked up by studios.

Hoping to one day see her name scrolling down the after-credits, Sánchez intends to stay true to herself and her heritage throughout her career. 

"The advice you get is write what you know,” Sánchez said. “I know I can bring part of my culture and heritage into the scripts, and it turns out [other] people are
interested in that, not just Latinos.”