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by Susan Royal

The 7th annual Austin Film Festival opened with Robert Altman's Dr. T & the Women, starring Richard Gere, and closed with Raymond De Felitta's Two Family House.

The Best Feature Film Award went to The Testimony of Taliesin Jones, written by Maureen Tilyou and directed by Martin Duffy. Best Short went to In God We Trust, written and directed by Jason Reitman, with Best Student Short awarded to Genesis and Catastrophe, written by Jamie Ruddy and Jonathan Liebesman and directed by Liebesman.

The Sundance Channel/Time Warner Cable sponsored the Audience Awards which were Billy Elliot for Best Distributed Feature Film (written by Lee Hall and directed by Stephen Daldry), Cicadas for Best Undistributed Feature Film (written and directed by Kat Candler), Mutual Love Life for Best Short Film (written and directed by Robert Peters), and Walking Mele for Best Student Short Film (written and directed by Anne Misawa).

Winners of the Screenwriting Competition were Frank Reilly for Checkmate (adult category), Stephen Falk for You Down With OCD? (comedy) and Nancy Hendrickson for On Top of the World (family).

A highlight of this year's festival was a staged reading of Susan Beth Lehman's touching and funny script, Summer Raines, which had been awarded Best Family Film at last year's Austin Film Fest Screenwriters Competition. A standing-room-only crowd jammed into the Citadel Room of the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin to see a cast of talented local actors bring this Texas-based story to life.

Summer Raines is the tale of a young girl who "would rather swim than have Christmas." Her older brother, a star high-school football player, receives all the attention, particularly from their mother, a flambouyant unmarried woman so obsessed with her son making it into the NFL that she is oblivious to the truly gifted athlete of the family, her daughter. With a fierce determination and the support of two unlikely conspirators -- an alcoholic cleaning woman and a little boy with his own set of problems -- Summer secretly strives for a spot on the Olympic team.

The tightly-written script manages to tell a "feel-good"story with minimum sentimentality and maximum charm. At a time when Hollywood is being berated for excesses of sex and gore, a positive, uplifting script like this is ripe for getting made. And if anyone doubts the mass appeal of a PG-rated, inspirational sports film these days, I have three words for you: "Remember the Titans"....a film that's made over $100 million.

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