Hudson Valley Film Festivals: Woodstock Film Festival in Woodstock and FilmColumbia in Chatham

Lights, camera, movies! Two area film festivals prove you don’t have to go to Cannes to screen hot new films and schmooze with stars


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Since the first film festival was held in Venice in 1932, movie lovers have happily queued up to view highly touted films before their general release. Today, thousands of annual festivals are held worldwide, from the most famous (think über-glamorous Cannes or Robert Redford’s laid-back Sundance) to genre-focused events like Philadelphia’s Terror Film Festival.

But you don’t have to go far from home this month when the Hudson Valley once again plays host to two film festivals that will showcase almost 200 movies in all over a 10-day period. Both the Woodstock Film Festival and FilmColumbia are in their 13th year, and both focus on quality independent productions rather than big studio releases. Woodstock remains the grande dame of the two events; it has many more movies and more industry buzz (in 2010, indieWIRE magazine named it one of the top 50 film festivals in the country). But FilmColumbia continues to attract more attention each year, and both festivals have screened their fair share of movies that have gone on to garner major awards. Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon screened at Columbia, Stranger Things had its world premiere at Woodstock, and Far from Heaven its U.S. premiere there.

Both festivals are also unique because they usually include films that depict local scenery, star local actors and actresses, or are directed by area residents who sometimes return for screenings or to participate in panel discussions. “You never know who may be waiting in line next to you or sitting at the next table,” says Meira Blaustein, cofounder and executive director of Woodstock’s festival. “It’s part of the charm.”

the sessions movie

The Sessions, a featured film at this month’s Woodstock fest, stars Helen Hunt and John Hawkes

This year at the Woodstock Film Festival, the spotlight is on director Ben Lewin’s drama The Sessions, which stars Helen Hunt, John Hawkes, and William H. Macy. “It was the first film shown in Sundance and a huge success because it is about a person who’s been in an iron lung his entire life and is seeking his sexual awakening,” says Blaustein, who viewed it at Sundance. “I love it, and everyone said it’s going to be nominated for an Academy Award.” Blaustein also expects three other movies being screened at the festival to generate huge interest: In Our Nature, directed by Brian Savelson and filmed in the Woodstock area; Quartet, a comedy about an opera performance put on by singers living in a retirement home, marks Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut and stars Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon; and The Compass Is Carried by the Dead Man, a Mexican magical realist film.

woodstock film festival movie poster

Of course, the WFF is not just about watching films. While close to 130 flicks are shown in three locations — Woodstock, Rhinebeck, and Rosendale — there are also eight to 10 panel discussions and about as many concerts, not to mention parties galore. One discussion topic this year is the blurring of the lines between TV and film. As more actors and directors cross the line to work in both mediums, “TV’s content is treading new waters and becoming less restrictive,” Blaustein says.

One of the festival’s highlights is the annual Maverick Awards Gala, which is held at Backstage Studio Productions in Kingston. “Maverick” statuettes are handed out for everything from best documentary to best editing, best animation, outstanding industry trailblazer, and giving back to the industry. “It’s among the coolest, most important industry award parties. In the past, Ellen Barkin, Timothy Hutton, and Keanu Reeves have attended,” says Blaustein.

For information or tickets, call 845-810-0131 or go to

» Next: FilmColumbia and festival stats


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