The first film of the 23rd annual Austin Film Festival screened Thursday night with a story that everyone should know.

Austin-based filmmaker Jeff Nichols' film "Loving" was selected as the first film of the festival. It tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose marriage lead to Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 case that led to the Supreme Court's decision to invalidate laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

In 1958, the couple drove from their home in Central Point, Virginia to Washington, D.C. to get married. The marriage was considered illegal in Virginia under the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. The Lovings were arrested after police came into their bedroom at night and found them sleeping in the same bed. Their marriage certificate, which was hanging on their bedroom wall, was taken as evidence.

When discussing civil rights leaders, the Lovings aren't always brought up. But their fight redefined equality in the United States.

"Proud as I am of all my films, rarely do I think they're important. This one is important," Nichols told the audience Thursday night. "This is a fundamental part of American history, and a lot of people don't know it."

Richard and Mildred Loving had the power to change minds, Nichols said.

Writer and director Jeff Nichols. 

Although the story took place decades ago, the message is relevant today. When Nichols started writing the film in 2012, marriage equality was again at the forefront of public discourse. Loving v. Virginia was frequently brought up in discussions over same-sex marriage. But the film’s message goes beyond marriage equality.

“It’s not just a film about marriage equality, it’s a film about equality in general. I think that’s a subject we’re always going to be dealing with,” Nichols told KVUE. “The Lovings are great examples of how to have discussions about equality because they had no real agenda, they just loved each other. It’s a really great reminder for us when we’re having those discussions that there are always people at the center of them.”

"Loving" is already at the center of Oscar discussions. When asked about his feelings about the Oscar buzz, Nichols said, “If it translates to people going to see the film and it translates to people hearing about this story, this story that I think is so, so important, it’s a good thing.”

"Loving" is Nichols’ fifth film. The Austin resident also wrote and directed "Mud," starring Matthew McConaughey, "Midnight Special," "Take Shelter" and "Shotgun Stories." "Loving" premieres in theaters on November 4.