As summer winds down, a mid-Hudson culture vulture’s thoughts turn to the wonders that await us in the fall. High on that list is the Woodstock Film Festival (WFF), October 15-19. With its diversity of offerings and its sustained focus on movies that fall outside the mainstream, it has earned its sobriquet of “Fiercely Independent.” But part of its broader appeal is undeniably the frisson that comes from seeing certified movie stars walking around downtown Woodstock as if they were…you know, real people. No matter how much we say that we love provocative, cutting-edge indie films, the top draws at WFF – the ones that you can’t get tickets to, unless you pay close attention to its website and make your move quickly once the lineup is announced – still tend to be offerings that feature known quantities by way of actors and directors. They may be indie Hollywood, but they’re still Hollywood.
So you wait too long to get tickets to the most popular screenings at WFF, and you find yourself poking around in obscure corners of the filmic universe, catching an oddball documentary here or there, a fiction feature by a Third World filmmaker, or a wildly diverting program of animation. By default, you touch the true heart of independent cinema: the roiling cauldron of ideas propelled more by a filmmaker’s passion than by adequate funding. In the process you encounter topics and points of view that you knew nothing about before, and you add new artist names to your future watch list. At its most challenging and useful, that’s what a film festival is really all about: discovery.
Meanwhile, laboring in the long shadows of WFF, a similar event has been going on nearby in Saugerstock that foregoes the glitz and glam altogether and cuts right to the chase of what’s most valuable about such events. It’s the Woodstock Museum’s annual Film Festival, and it unspools this weekend. The festival’s theme this year is “Real,” and participants will come from Italy, Germany, Sweden, Turkey and Taiwan as well as the US.
You can catch all or part of the 15th annual Woodstock Museum Film Festival for free. Screenings begin at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, August 29 to 31, and run from 12:30 to 6 p.m. on Monday, September 1. You can even make arrangements to camp on the site and enjoy the swimming pool if you’d like to spend the whole weekend.
Originally, the Woodstock Museum Film Festival was hosted by Woodstock’s Town Hall, but in more recent years the films have been shown in two indoor theaters at the museum itself. For many, the filmmakers will be present, and question-and-answer sessions and audience critiques will follow the screenings.
Filmmakers from Australia and New Zealand are particularly well-represented, reflecting the sister-city relationship between Woodstock and the Australian community of Nimbin.In fact, the first screening following the opening ceremony on Friday evening will be a documentary by David Lowe about the activism of environmental performance artist Benny Zable, who also happens to be Nimbin’s official ambassador to Woodstock. Zable will be on hand for a discussion afterwards.
While all tending to reflect in some way the museum’s interest in the worldviews and values espoused by the circa-1969 Woodstock Nation, the fare at the Woodstock Museum Film Festival spans a wide variety of form, style and length. Unsurprisingly, documentaries are prominent, with a comprehensive four-part overview of American Freethought, from Thomas Paine through the Abolition and women’s suffrage movements to the mid-20th century, arguably the centerpiece of this year’s festival. The separate segments of Rod Bradford’s humanist historical opus will be shown over the course of the weekend. Other notable docs include Rise of the Eco-Warriors,Cathy Henkel’s account of activists fighting to save both orangutan and indigenous human habitat in Borneo, which will be shown on Saturday; and Not My Life, Robert Bilheimer’s exposé of global human trafficking, scheduled for Sunday.
There’s quite a bit of abstract art film on the menu, as well as animationthat ranges from the erotic metamorphoses of Ying-Fang Shen’s The Tale of the Day on Friday to Lorenzo Berghella’s dystopian political fantasy Too Bad on Sunday to the kid-friendly whimsy of Stephen Baker’s I Need My Monster on Monday. Fiction films both short and long are also on offer, perhaps the most intriguing feature-length narrative being Faysal Soysal’s Crossroads. Largely through dreams, it tells the story of a Turkish youth who accidentally causes the death of his brother’s girlfriend, seeks oblivion from his guilt by exhuming mass graves in Bosnia and eventually falls in love with a psychologist who tries to help him overcome his trauma and reconcile with his brother. Its Monday screening is followed by Drown the Alarm, Mitchell Klebanoff’s global-warming-themed parody of a Nicki Minaj music video.
That’s just a taste of what’s onscreen this weekend at the Woodstock Museum Film Festival: an array that might fairly be termed “Even More Fiercely Independent” than WFF. The indoor/outdoor event will also feature music, a bonfire and light shows with Jim C. Early arrivals can take museum tours from 12 noon to 4 p.m. for the usual entry fee of $7 for adults, $3.50 for kids under age 12. You can picnic on the grounds or get a homemade meal or snack at the on-site café.
Lots more information about the movies being screened and a full festival schedule are available online at https://woodstockmuseum.com/2014_film_festival.htm. The Woodstock Museum is located at 13 Charles Bach Road in Saugerties, on the outskirts of Woodstock; driving directions can also be found on the website.
Woodstock Museum Film Festival, Friday-Sunday, August 29-31, 5:30-11ish p.m., Monday, September 1, 12:30-6 p.m., free, Woodstock Museum, 3 Charles Bach Road, Saugerties; (845) 246-0600, ulsterpub.staging.wpenginemuseum.org.