Besides bringing the glitz and glamour of the international movie industry to the funky streets of Woodstock and surrounding communities, a major raison d’etre of the Woodstock Film Festival (WFF) is to promote the Hudson Valley as a hotbed of independent media production and a terrific, welcoming place to shoot footage. So along with – and sometimes overlapping with – movies with big-name stars and directors, each annual visitation of WFF invariably brings screenings of films with regional roots or connections. Almanac Weekly’s pre-Festival overview in last week’s issue (https://bit.ly/1VqkoUS) listed some of the locally made titles on this year’s schedule; now we’ll go into a little more depth on a few of them.
After the Spill
Nature documentaries ain’t what they used to be when National Geographic TV specials first started hitting the small screen. Spectacular cinematography of charismatic megafauna and stunning landscapes still comes with the package, but it’s not enough to take viewers along on a controversy-free armchair vacation to exotic locales since wild creatures and their habitats are threatened all over the globe. Force perforce, the cozy travelogue of yesteryear has become the urgent call to action of today.
One of the documentarians at the forefront of this trend to collect undeniable visual data documenting global threats like climate change is a resident of Ulster County (when he stays in one spot long enough to be called a resident of anyplace smaller than Planet Earth). That’s Jon Bowermaster, who in 1989 to 1990 filmed Will Steger’s seven-month crossing of Antarctica by dogsled, and then spent the decade from 1998 to 2008 touring and filming the world’s oceans by sea kayak for his Oceans 8 project. In recent years he has begun working in the high-definition film format and also taken on the issue of hydrofracking, producing the documentary Dear Governor Cuomo about the battle in New York State; a sequel, Dear President Obama, is currently in production.
Bowermaster was putting the finishing touches on his SoLa: Louisiana Water Stories, which he began filming in 2008, when British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oilwell in the Gulf of Mexico exploded in 2010. That film gorgeously captured a place and a way of life that many believe will never return. Since then, Bowermaster and his camera have revisited the area many times, interviewing fishermen, scientists, politicians, environmentalists and oil-rig workers to investigate how the Louisiana coast has been altered. What really happened to that oil? What about the dispersant used to push it beneath the surface? How has the spill impacted local economies, human health and the health of marine life and the Gulf itself? Has Louisiana’s coastline been tainted forever?
The result of those follow-up investigations is After the Spill, produced and directed by Bowermaster, which will have its world premiere at 3 p.m. this Sunday, October 4 at the Woodstock Playhouse. Tickets were still available at presstime. Another Ulster County resident, actress Melissa Leo, narrates.
Paradise Is There
Another thing that Jon Bowermaster is known for, hereabouts, is being half of one of Ulster County’s celebrity power couples. His Significant Other, singer Natalie Merchant, is also an anti-fracking activist and headlined the fundraising concert that forms the narrative core of Dear Governor Cuomo. So it’s no great surprise that another documentary offering in WFF 2015, Paradise Is There: A Memoir by Natalie Merchant, lists Bowermaster as the producer.
Scheduled to screen at 9:15 p.m. this Thursday, October 1 at the Woodstock Playhouse, with tix still available, Paradise Is There was written and directed by Merchant to accompany her LP of the same title, due for release in November. On the new record, she has rerecorded the 11 songs on her critically acclaimed first solo album, Tigerlily, to mark its 20th anniversary. The autobiopic incorporates archival footage from her early days fronting 10,000 Maniacs, clips of live performances and interviews with fellow musicians, friends and fans about Tigerlily’s influences on them.
She’s the Best Thing in It
Another documentary about a show-biz icon residing in Ulster County, veteran actress Mary Louise Wilson, may very well be sold out by the time this issue hits the newsstands (but it’s always worth a call to the WFF box office to double-check). Screenings are scheduled for 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, October 3 at Upstate Films Woodstock and for 3 p.m. on Sunday, October 4 at Upstate Films Rhinebeck.
She’s the Best Thing in It is produced and directed by another local, Ron Nyswaner. Best-known for his Oscar-nominated screenplay for Jonathan Demme’s 1993 film Philadelphia, Nyswaner more recently was writer/co-executive producer for two seasons of Showtime’s Ray Donovan and is currently wearing the same hats for Season 5 of Homeland. But he has never done a documentary feature before.
The woman who inspired him to this new undertaking, now age 79, won a Tony Award for her Broadway turn as Big Edie in Grey Gardens and has been in about a million movies and TV shows, though rarely in a lead role. Wilson is a character actress who’s also quite clearly a “character,” packing lots of outrageous tales of the life of a theatrical vagabond. Her memoir My First Hundred Years in Show Business just came out this past summer, and you can read a piece about her book tour by Almanac’s Ann Hutton right here: https://bit.ly/1FGPOUV.
Featuring interviews with actresses Frances McDormand, Melissa Leo, Tyne Daly, Estelle Parsons and Valerie Harper and playwright Doug Wright, She’s the Best Thing in It discusses what it means to be a character actor, whether acting can be taught, what constitutes “talent” and whether the profession is harder for women. Watch the feisty and at times hilarious Wilson teach her first acting class to skeptical members of the YouTube generation, smashing their red-carpet illusions and challenging them to bring emotional honesty into their acting. Sounds like fun!
Good Ol’ Boy
These days, if you need to see a medical specialist in Ulster or Dutchess County, the chances are fairly high that the person you consult will be a native of a South Asian country. I used to imagine some crazed recruiter out there, visiting every medical school on the Indian subcontinent, wooing promising young doctors-to-be with fanciful tales of how much they’d love the balmy subtropical climate of the Hudson Valley. America the Melting Pot’s demographic patterns are forever changing, but our local Yellow Pages weren’t always full of Hindi surnames – certainly not yet so in 1979, when the family comedy Good Ol’ Boy, shot entirely on location in Ulster County, is set.
Based on a true story, Good Ol’ Boy is about a family of pioneering immigrants from India who move to the US with hopes of living the American Dream. While their 10-year-old boy Smith falls head-over-heels for the girl next door, his desire to become a “good ol’ boy” (yes, we may be a Blue State, but upstate New York is still full of ’em) propels him further away from his family’s ideals than ever before. The movie is a tribute to childhood heroes, first love and growing up in Small Town America, with a healthy dollop of culture shock thrown in.
The movie is directed by Australian actor/producer Frank Lotito, who co-produced it with veteran South Asian-American producer/writer/actor Anjul Nigam (Bad Words, Grey’s Anatomy, True Detective) and Steve Straka. The cast includes Nigam, Jason Lee, Brighton Sharbino, Hilarie Burton, Jake Busey, Tim Guinee, Alison Wright, Poorna Jagannathan and Samrat Chakrabarti, with Roni Akurati as Smith.
Good Ol’ Boy will screen at 2 p.m. on Friday, October 2 at the Woodstock Playhouse and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 4 at the Rosendale Theatre; standby tickets only were available for Rosendale as of presstime. Make sure you check out the movie poster, whose background image is a shot of the Mid-Hudson Bridge!
I Dream Too Much
Also shot in upstate New York was a new feature about intergenerational friendship starring two-time Oscar nominee Diane Ladd. Ladd plays Vera, the artistic great-aunt of Dora, a romantic, unfocused recent college graduate portrayed by Eden Brolin (Ruby Sparks), daughter of Josh Brolin. Fleeing her New Jersey home, where her practical mother is pressuring her to study for the LSATs, Dora takes refuge with Vera in her upstate home, assisting her when she becomes housebound after breaking her foot. In the time that they spend together, Dora and Vera both learn that no matter your age, now is always a good time to follow your dreams.
I Dream Too Much is the sophomore feature from director/screenwriter Katie Cokinos, an indie from the Austin area who now lives in Saugerties. The cast also includes Danielle Brooks, James McCaffrey and Casper Andreas, and Richard Linklater is the executive producer.
Screenings are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Friday, October 1 at the Woodstock Playhouse and 6 p.m. on Friday, October 2 at the Orpheum Theater in Saugerties (the latter was nearly sold out as of presstime).
Tickets for all WFF screenings and events can be purchased at ulsterpub.staging.wpenginefilmfestival.com or by calling (845) 810-0131. If the movie that you thought you wanted to see is already sold out, be Fiercely Independent and discover something different!