The future of cinema: Sample virtual reality at Woodstock Film Fest

A Private War is based on the life of war correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike). (Paul Conroy | Aviron Pictures)

As if the mid-Hudson Valley in mid-October needed an attraction with eye appeal beyond our autumnal foliage, the Woodstock Film Festival (WFF) will be back for its 19th annual run from Wednesday the 10th through Sunday the 14th. The usual variety of venues in Woodstock, Kingston, Rhinebeck, Saugerties and Rosendale will play host once again to hundreds of screenings, panel discussions, concerts, awards parties and exhibitions that showcase the latest offerings from the ever-bubbling stewpot that is independent cinema.

As befits a festival that prides itself on promoting the “fiercely independent,” WFF’s content tends to be innovative and often outside the movie mainstream. But there are familiar currents within this flow: more documentaries and short films than you’ll likely find at your local multiplex; a lot more filmmakers of color (this year’s special guest programmer, Roger Ross Williams, is the first African American director to win an Academy Award) and nearly half of what’s on view was made by women. Woodstock being a musical town, you can count on some music-related programming. 


Aside from the fact that most “film” nowadays is actually shot on video, the medium itself isn’t what’s usually new at WFF. But this year brings a chance to experience an up-and-coming cinematic technology: Virtual Reality (VR), touted as “the next phase of storytelling for creators and artists.” On Saturday, October 13, the Kleinert/James Art Center will host a 10 a.m. panel discussion on the new, highly immersive medium, featuring curators Carol Silverman and Dario Laverde and VR artists and experts; then, in the afternoon and evening, visitors will get the chance to experience VR live in the Woodstock Film Festival Virtual Reality Lounge at the Center for Photography. Tickets for this limited opportunity are going fast.

Julie Taymo’s Across the Universe

As with any film festival, some attendees come for the frisson of rubbing elbows with celebrities. WFF’s most glittery bash is always the Maverick Awards ceremony, hosted by Backstage Studio Productions in Kingston on Saturday night from 8 to 11 p.m. Polymath director Julie Taymor is 2018’s Maverick Award recipient, and a special tribute screening of her 2007 opus Across the Universe will take place at the Woodstock Playhouse at 10:15 a.m. on Sunday, October 14. Best-known as an Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated documentarian, Matthew Heineman will be the 2018 Filmmaker Award of Distinction recipient; his debut fiction feature, A Private War, based on the life of war correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike), will be WFF’s Closing Night Film, screening at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the Woodstock Playhouse. 

One of Woodstock’s longtime resident music celebrities is the subject of a documentary getting its North American premiere: Karl Berger – Music Mind. Its screening at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, October 10 at the Woodstock Playhouse, followed by a live performance by the Karl Berger Band, will be the Festival’s kickoff event. Elizabeth Chomko’s What They Had will be the Opening Night Film, presented at 8:15 p.m. on Thursday, October 11, also at the Playhouse. The Centerpiece Film will be Paul Dano’s much-anticipated directorial debut, Wildlife, to be shown at 9:45 p.m. on Saturday at the Playhouse and again at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Rosendale Theatre.

Science fiction and fantasy fans have some treats to look forward to, including a visit from Christopher Lloyd, famed for playing the eccentric inventor Doc Brown in Back to the Future. He gets to portray a time traveler again, this time in a more serious vehicle: Alyssa Rallo Bennett’s ReRun, which screens at 8:15 p.m. on Sunday at the Playhouse. Both star and director will be on hand for the talkback. And if you’d been hoping to catch a glimpse of either Maisie Williams, who plays Game of Thrones’ beloved assassin-in-training Arya Stark, or Asa Butterfield, star of Hugo and Ender’s Game, when they were shooting Peter Hutchings’ Then Came You in Kingston last year…well, the two young actors aren’t scheduled to attend in person. But the two WFF screenings – at 9:45 p.m. on Friday, October 12 at the Playhouse and at 9:15 p.m. on Saturday at Upstate Films Rhinebeck – do constitute the tragicomedy feature’s world premiere.

There’s plenty more to entice a visit, as always, including a new documentary by the great Barbara Kopple, A Murder in Mansfield, plus more music docs, including Michael Franti’s Stay Human and Mark Maxey’s Up to Snuff, whose star W. G. “Snuffy” Walden will be in attendance. This will be the fourth year in a row when some targeted funding will enable a Focus on Dutch Cinema, with all three movies – Nicole van Kilsdonk’s Love Revisited, Saskia Diesing’s Dorst (Craving) and Paula van der Oest’s Younger Days – directed by women. There are nine world premieres, four North American premieres, one US premiere, 12 East Coast premieres and eight New York premieres. Countries of origin include Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Kazakhstan, Latvia, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Jordan and Ukraine as well as the US.

Ticket prices for most screenings range from $10 to $20. To order, call (845) 810-0131, visit the WFF box office at 13 Rock City Road in Woodstock or check out the extremely detailed website at