Thursday marked the beginning of the 17th annual Austin Film Festival and Conference (AFF). The festival regularly draws a crowd of not just film buffs, but also aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers. The screenwriters' conference is what puts this festival above the usual run of regional film festivals ... although the gorgeous fall weather in Central Texas and a lot of good barbecue doesn't hurt, either.

Writing is a big focus of this film festival, and the conference and special screenings feature a number of excellent movie and TV screenwriters. David Peoples is receiving the AFF Distinguished Screenwriter Award this year -- the movies he's scripted include '12 Monkeys' (which Peoples will screen and discuss), 'Unforgiven'' and 'Blade Runner.' The Outstanding Television Writer Award this year will be presented to David Simon, who created 'The Wire' and 'Treme.' And Austin writer/filmmaker Robert Rodriguez will be at the fest not only to show 'Sin City' -- and answer an infinite number of inquiries about 'Sin City 2' -- but to receive the festival's Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking Award.