It's a tenet that we in Houston understand all too well: Austin, as our cooler, hipper sibling, puts on the best festivals. First South By Southwest, then the Austin Film Festival. Why, it's almost unfair. But there's no reason to shun these shindigs -- especially this week's Austin Film Festival -- out of jealousy. In its 11th year, the annual event is spotlighting screenwriters rather than actors. If you've ever fancied yourself a moviemaker, the fest's conferences, which run from Thursday through Sunday at the Driskill and Stephen F. Austin hotels, are the place to be. "You get fewer of the satisfying anecdotes that come from actors, perhaps," says featured panelist John Lee Hancock, who wrote and directed the recent historical blockbuster, The Alamo. "But you get more nuts and bolts about how a film is conceived." Not that there's a shortage of celebs: Funnyman Garry Shandling, fresh off his Emmy hosting gig, and director Barry Levinson are slated as panelists.
The three-hour roadtrip will be worth Houstonians' while, as more than 100 films will be screened in eight days at several Austin theaters. Drop $42.50 and you'll get a pass to every film, including premieres of such big-budget flicks as The Street and American Brown, a Bollywood showcase and a slew of documentary and short flicks. Or, shell out the big bucks (call ahead for prices) and you'll score an all-access pass to every panel discussion, screening and schmoozefest party, like the filmmakers' happy hour, where you can rub elbows with Shandling and Levinson and pitch next year's big blockbuster -- written and starring, natch, yourself. The Austin Film Festival opens Thursday, October 14, and runs through October 21 at various venues. For information, call 800-310-3378 or visit www.austinfilmfestival.com. Prices start at $42.50; $35 for students. -- Steven Devadanam
Houston's best ethnic festival? Fuggedaboudit! Festa Italiana rubs out the competition every year in a sea of tomato sauce and ricotta cheese. This year's event will be laid out like a street festival in a "quaint Italian village," lined with mountains of hand-prepared food. Other highlights include the grape-stomping contest, live Italian music bands (including the Rat Pack Review -- swingin'!) and a car show featuring Fiats, Alfa Romeos and Ferraris. And Sunday morning's events start with a Catholic Mass -- what better place to confess your sins from Saturday night? 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, October 16, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, October 17. Houston Farm & Ranch Club, One Abercrombie Drive. For information, call 713-524-4222 or visit www.houstonitalianfestival.com. $5 for adults; free for children 12 and under. -- Bob Ruggiero
Et Tu, Crouton?
Strange to think that a patch of romaine lettuce covered in a blend of Parmesan cheese, anchovies and lemon juice could cause such a commotion, but apparently Caesar-salad-lovin' camps are so polarized that an annual throwdown is needed to appease them. This weekend's 20th annual Caesar Salad Competition, featuring chefs from the chic eateries Pesce, River Oaks Grill, Brennan's and 14 other restaurants, should leave you entertained, if not decisive. Participating chefs have done everything in past years from mixing unique cocktails to enlisting shot girls to draw people to their booths in hopes of winning the coveted "consumers' choice" award. And according to one attendee, there's been some smack-talking in the past, too. What, are they threatening to bruise each other's lettuce? 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, October 15. Doubletree Hotel Allen Center, 400 Dallas. For information, call 713-609-5510. $25. -- Julia Ramey
Tut and Comin'
Arthur Phillips gets naughty and nice in The Egyptologist
Referring to the number of sperm contained in a single ejaculation, legendary Houston comedian Bill Hicks once observed, "I've tossed universes in my underpants. While napping." There's a similar autoerotic creation myth at the center of Arthur Phillips's new novel, The Egyptologist. Its titular antihero ferrets out the tomb of Atum-hadu (translation: "Atum-Is-Aroused"), a king named after an onanistic Egyptian god whose, um, "big bang" created the universe. While Phillips's hugely successful debut novel, Prague, dealt with present-day anxieties, the new one plops the reader squarely in the early 1920s, with narrative tentacles reaching forward and into the past. This week Phillips reads from The Egyptologist at Brazos Bookstore; expect heavily fictionalized Middle Eastern history, incorrigible wordplay ("this is no continent for the incontinent"), romance and the occasional penis joke. Phillips appears with author Dan Chaon at 7 p.m. Thursday, October 14. 2421 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-523-0701 or visit www.brazosbookstore.com. Free. -- Scott Faingold
Sunning and Shopping
This weekend you can work on your tan while getting a jump on that Christmas list. Snoop around booths featuring more than 100 regional artists who'll be peddling jewelry, watercolors, hand-crafted furniture and pottery at Galveston's ARToberFEST. This year's event features work by students from the University of Houston and area high schools. Stroll the arts district and get mellow with South American chill music courtesy of the Andean New Age Players. Festival proceeds go to local charities, including the AIDS Coalition of Coastal Texas. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, October 16, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, October 17. Postoffice Street, between 21st and 23rd streets, Galveston. For information, visit www.artoberfest.com. $3; free for children 12 and under. -- Greg Barr