The Woodstock Film Festival Turns 10
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Lights-camera-action meets peace-love-and-happiness as the Woodstock Film Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary from September 30 through October 4 with film screenings, industry panels, musical performances, and the promise of celebrity sightings on Tinker Street and beyond.
As usual, the slate is filled with much-buzzed-about motion pictures. In the drama The Eclipse, Valley resident Aidan Quinn plays a widower visited by ghosts in a sleepy Irish town. Rebecca Miller’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee concerns a 50-year-old woman’s move to a retirement community to be with her much older — and, unbeknownst to her, philandering — husband. Richard Linklater’s new film, Me and Orson Welles, stars Zac Efron as a teenager cast in a 1937 stage production of Julius Caesar directed by the titular titan. And Against the Current, written and directed by Hastings-on-Hudson’s own Peter Callahan, involves a heartbroken man’s endeavor to swim the length of the Hudson River.
This year’s event, the largest yet, will boast “a good number of luminaries — perhaps more than usual,” says Meira Blaustein, the festival’s cofounder and executive director. One of those luminaries, the Oscar-nominated actor Ethan Hawke, will be on hand to present the Maverick Award to Linklater, the Austin auteur who directed him in the romantic classics Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.
This year, panelists will talk at length about the future — of independent cinema, of film criticism, of filmmaking technology. “We will also show some films that explore the future and technology, focusing on artificial intelligence and the growing relation between mankind and computers,” says Blaustein. This theme is also evident in the poster that graphic artist Milton Glaser (creator of the I § NY logo) designed for the occasion: The abstract shapes on the black field have a futuristic, almost sci-fi, feel.
But the focus on tomorrow doesn’t mean Blaustein has lost sight of yesterday. “It’s amazing to me to think back,” she says. “Ten years ago, we didn’t know anybody, didn’t know the town.”
Blaustein teamed with Laurent Rejto, now the director of the Hudson Valley Film Commission, with the notion of founding a new festival in the area. “We wanted to bring this to a place so steeped in art and culture — so filled with artists, set in a beautiful place, but so close to New York City, where independent film was beginning to bloom,” she recalls.
With its artistic bona fides, Woodstock was a logical place to set up shop — but it was not, curiously, the first choice. “Originally, it was supposed to be in New Paltz,” Blaustein says, “but that didn’t work.”
The festival debuted in September of 2000 with a slate of documentary, feature, and short films; panel discussions featuring Quinn and fellow Valley actor David Strathairn; and a now-recurring segment on women in film. Despite its shoestring budget and an operating staff comprised almost exclusively of volunteers, the festival was a rousing success.
“We had no money,” Blaustein recalls. “There was a dream and a very good plan.” And they’ve stuck with it. Subsequent festivals, while expanded in size, have not deviated much from the original blueprint. “It caught on so fast, almost like a fire,” she says. “So many people wanted to be a part of it.”
One of the keys to Woodstock’s success is the strong bond between festival and community. Filmmakers lodge at private homes; staffers crash on couches. Films are not just screened in Woodstock, but at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck and the Rosendale Theatre as well; the awards presentation is in Kingston, so the attendees are not confined to the village. Special events encourage the filmmakers to get out and enjoy the bucolic scenery — in past years, for example, Mirabai Films has organized hiking expeditions. If filmmakers like what they see, of course, they’ll consider shooting in the area in the future — which is one of the festival’s objectives.
“We’ve built a connection between filmmakers and the Hudson Valley,” says Blaustein. “It’s something that’s good for everyone.”
» Next: Hudson Valley chats with Peter Callahan, director of Against the Current starring Joseph Feinnes, Justin Kirk, and Mary Tyler Moore. PLUS see the preview.