“Here it’s so intimate and relaxed that the audience gets to meet the filmmakers,” says Woodstock Film Festival (WFF) director Meira Blaustein, defining the character of the annual event that will flood Woodstock and its environs with film-loving and filmmaking people from Wednesday, October 10 through Sunday, October 14. “Our audience is savvy and engaged. We’re told over and over by filmmakers that some of the best questions they get are at the Woodstock Film Festival.”
As WFF gears up for its 13th year of independent features, documentaries, shorts, animations, teen-made films, concerts, panels and parties, Blaustein waxes enthusiastic about the qualities of the Festival that she has shepherded since its inception. “We get top-notch films in terms of style and content, by many accomplished filmmakers. A lot of the filmmakers come, and they often do a Q-and-A after the film, or they meet people congregating outside. They’re always happy to interact with the audience, which doesn’t normally happen in a Festival of this quality.” And Blaustein attends plenty of festivals in her annual rounds.
She says that actors also enjoy being in Woodstock. “Nobody is chasing them down the street to get their autograph or snap a photo; it’s all human-to-human.”
WFF receives nearly 2,000 submissions per year, and Blaustein keeps tabs on what everyone’s doing through festivals, private screenings and talking to filmmakers. Months of sifting go into assembling the Festival offerings. “It’s painstaking and painful,” she reports. “It’s heartbreaking for the filmmakers, and for us too. There are so many we wish we could show, but can’t do it all. What we’re showing is representative of the kind of work that there is out there in any given year.”
And that work, Blaustein says, is improving in quality. “In the beginning of the digital revolution, everybody could make a movie, and there was a glut of mediocre work. As years went by, more and more people have learned how to make films. It’s a good trend.”
This year, WFF will show 130 films from all over the US and the world, including work shot in Russia, Mexico, Denmark and the Hudson Valley. Ninety percent of the filmmakers are attending the Festival. “We have many world premieres,” says Blaustein. “We have young and old filmmakers and a diverse lineup of incredible works, in terms of style and subject matter.” She advises festivalgoers to sample a variety of different types of films to get an overall flavor of what the indie world is producing.
Music is a big theme this year. A live performance by David Bromberg will follow the showing of the documentary David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure. Natalie Merchant will perform after the world premiere of Dear Governor Cuomo, an anti-fracking film starring Mark Ruffalo and Melissa Leo, with Merchant’s musical direction.
A documentary also highlights the DC band Bad Brains (who now reside in Woodstock), and there’s one about soul singer Charles Bradley, who recently, in his 60s, achieved international success. He will also perform live after the film. I Am Not a Hipster is a feature film about a musician in the San Diego indie underground scene. Magical Mystery Tour is a restored and remixed version of the classic Beatles movie, long out of print. Also screening will be an hourlong documentary on the making of the once-controversial film.
The filmmakers’ party, ordinarily by-invitation-only, will be a ticketed event this year. Blaustein calls it a “happening,” with three bands and live performance art, taking place at the new Saugerties Performing Arts Factory.
Most films will screen in Woodstock, with some showing in Rosendale and Rhinebeck. To give an idea of the variety of offerings, here is a sampling: Quartet is Dustin Hoffman’s directing debut: a comedy about a home for retired opera singers.
Woodstock native Jessica Goldberg’s feature film Refuge addresses the struggle to deal with emotional fallout when two wounded people fall in love.
In Mariachi Gringo, a young man is inspired by an old mariachi musician at a Mexican restaurant, leaves his dead-end life and runs away to Guadalajara.
First Winter is about New Age Brooklynites in a country farmhouse and how they cope with an epic power outage in the dead of winter.