The 17th annual Woodstock Film Festival (WFF) hits town on October 13 to 16, bringing movie-industry celebs to the streets of Woodstock and more than 130 films, panels and other events to venues from Saugerties to Rhinebeck to Rosendale. It’s a bittersweet year for the WFF folks, who lost one of their most eminent advisors at the end of 2015: two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer/director Haskell Wexler, after whom the Festival’s own annual Cinematography Award is named.
The late master craftsman’s body of work extends from Ozzie and Harriett on TV in the ’50s to his iconic cinéma-vérité feature Medium Cool (1969) to a long list of big-budget Hollywood movies, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Bound for Glory and Coming Home, to indie films like Matewan and The Secret of Roan Inish, to political documentaries like the Emmy-winning Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang. Ellen Kuras has taken over the reins as WFF’s one-person jury for the Haskell Wexler Cinematography Award, and Wexler’s memory will be celebrated with a Sunday afternoon screening of Pamela Yates’s 2015 documentary about him, Rebel Citizen.
Documentaries, both features and shorts, are always well-represented at this socially conscious festival. Among the most anticipated this year is Kathleen Dowdey’s biopic of one of the most important surviving figures of the Civil Rights movement in America, Get in the Way: The Journey of John Lewis. It will be screened at Upstate Films Rhinebeck on Friday afternoon and at the Bearsville Theater on Saturday evening. It wouldn’t be a Woodstock Film Festival without at least a few music docs; this year’s selection includes Jim Jarmusch’s portrait of the Stooges, Gimme Danger, and Bernard MacMahon’s American Epic, a three-part wallow in blues, gospel, R & B, Cajun and other musical forms that evolved on these shores.
On the narrative-features side, the nation’s ugly history of racism also comes to light in this year’s WFF “Centerpiece Film”: the much-praised Loving, directed by Jeff Nichols. It tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose 1958 interracial marriage got them thrown in jail, then thrown out of the state of Virginia – until the US Supreme Court ruled that laws against “miscegenation” were unconstitutional. It will be screened at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Woodstock Playhouse. The big festival opener, on Thursday, October 13, at 6 p.m. at the Woodstock Playhouse, will be the world premiere of Michael Mailer’s Blind, starring Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore. Baldwin and Mailer will both be on hand for a discussion following the screening.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, of course. WFF 2016 includes five world premieres, six North American premieres, three US premieres, 11 East Coast premieres and 14 New York premieres. There are programs of shorts, both animated and live-action. This year’s panel discussions will cover such topics as “Producers on Producing,” “Music for Film,” “Women in Film and Media” and “Feminism in the Middle East.” A full third of this year’s selected films – 44 – were made by women; three Dutch films will be spotlighted among the 2016 roster of 32 international entries. Ten films made in the Hudson Valley will be the focus of an article in next week’s issue of Almanac Weekly.
Then there are the Maverick Awards, handed out at the Saturday night Gala at BSP in Kingston on October 15. This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award will be handed to Leon Gast – best-known for his documentary about the Ali/Foreman fight, When We Were Kings – by fellow Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple (Harlan County USA). Two-time Best Director Academy Award-winner Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, The Revenant) will be on hand to give the Trailblazer Award to Participant Media CEO David Linde, honoring that company’s commitment to producing hard-hitting topical films like Spotlight. Actor Ben Foster will give the Fiercely Independent Award to screenwriter/director/producer Oren Moverman (Rampart, Time out of Mind, Love and Mercy, I’m Not There). Recipients in additional award categories will be announced at the ceremony.
Ticket prices for WFF screenings and events range from $10 on up. To view the full schedule and order tickets, visit www.woodstockfilmfestival.com/ticketinfo.php. See you at the movies!