Sometimes words just aren’t enough to express how bad the times are. For many women I know, the past couple of weeks have been one of those awful times. But turn your attention momentarily away from contemplation of the abyss in Washington, DC to the fact that the Woodstock Film Festival (WFF) is in progress as this issue hits the newsstands. This preview of WFF’s 2018 offerings (about half of them made by women, overall) focuses solely on works by female directors whose narratives explore relationships among women. Here’s a smattering of gynocentric choices – six fiction features and two documentaries – all of which (except as noted) still had $10 tickets available as of presstime:
Almost Home (Jessica Blank/Erik Jensen)
• Friday, Oct. 12, 1 p.m., Orpheum Theater, Saugerties
• Sunday, Oct. 14, 5:45 p.m., Upstate Films, Woodstock
Based on Blank’s YA novel of the same title, Almost Home follows 13-year-old Elly (Rachel Zimmermann) as she runs away from a seemingly pleasant middle-class home to follow Tracy, a beguiling 18-year-old runaway she meets after being bullied at school. Thrust into the rough LA gutter-punk subculture, the two girls form an unlikely unit while trying to survive the harsh realities of living on the streets. I am excited about this one because Hannah Marks, who did a terrific job playing the hallucination-prone Amanda Brotzman on the TV series Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, is cast as streetwise mentor Tracy.
Ask for Jane (Rachel Carey)
• Saturday, Oct. 13, 10:45 a.m., Woodstock Playhouse
• Sunday, Oct. 14, 12 noon, Orpheum Theater, Saugerties
Appetite whetted for a blatantly political tale of feminism in action? Check out Ask for Jane, which harks back to the days before the Roe v. Wade decision. Spanning the years 1969 to 1973, it’s a fictionalized version of the story of the “Janes,” an underground network of young women dedicated to providing abortion services despite the risk of arrest. More than 11,000 Chicagoans secured safe (albeit illegal) abortions with their help. Ask for Jane is a timely reminder that activism can bring about change.
Dreams by the Sea (Sakaris Stora)
• Thursday, Oct. 11, 3:30 p.m., Upstate Films, Woodstock (standby only)
• Sunday, Oct. 14, 1 p.m., Upstate Films, Rhinebeck
Set in the director’s native Faroe Islands, the visually stunning, emotionally gratifying Dreams by the Sea examines the challenges facing a burgeoning romance in a remote place where everyone knows everybody else’s business. Ester goes about her mundane life, quietly obeying her religious parents, until one day the rebellious Ragna moves to town and Ester is smitten. Through the summer, the girls roam the island together, dreaming of something different, something better.
Keely and Du (Laurie Colbert/Dominique Cardona)
• Friday, Oct. 12, 5:45 p.m., Upstate Films, Rhinebeck
• Saturday, Oct. 13, 4:15 p.m., Upstate Films, Woodstock
Having nightmares about a Handmaid’s Tale-flavored future? Jane Martin’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play Keely and Du foreshadows that scenario in thriller format. This Canadian-made film adaptation tracks the journey of Keely, a spirited young woman who awakens one day to find herself a captive of a mysterious religious duo and must either free herself from her fanatical kidnappers or succumb to their dogma.
Lez Bomb (Jenna Laurenzo)
• Thursday, Oct. 11, 8:45 p.m., Upstate Films, Woodstock
• Friday, Oct. 12, 8:30 p.m., Rosendale Theatre
• Saturday, Oct. 13, 9:30 p.m., Upstate Films, Rhinebeck
Veteran thespians Cloris Leachman, Bruce Dern and Steve Guttenberg all play supporting roles in this multigenerational comedy of errors about a closeted young woman who decides to bring her girlfriend home for Thanksgiving, planning to come out of the closet while her entire eccentric family is together. When her straight male longtime roommate arrives unexpectedly, it sets off a chain of coincidences that thwart her efforts. In a big, crazy family there is simply no good time to drop the Lez Bomb.
Little Woods (Nia DaCosta)
• Saturday, Oct. 13, 7:45 p.m., Orpheum Theater, Saugerties
• Sunday, Oct. 14, 8 p.m., Bearsville Theater, Woodstock
In this socially conscious thriller, Tessa Thompson and Lily James star as Ollie and Deb, two sisters driven to work outside the law to save their North Dakota home. Ollie has helped the struggling residents of Little Woods gain access to Canadian healthcare by smuggling in medications, sneaking people across the border for procedures – and profiting from drug trafficking on the side. After she’s caught and put on probation, she plans to go legit. But just days away from freedom, Ollie steps back into the underbelly of their oil boomtown.
Netizens (Cynthia Lowen)
• Thursday, Oct. 11, 8:30 p.m., Bearsville Theater, Woodstock
• Friday, Oct. 12, 5:45 p.m., Rosendale Theatre
Identity theft, online death threats, “revenge porn,” stalking and impersonation are contemporary hazards to all who use the Internet, but there’s an ever-growing cesspool of cyber-harassment targeted particularly toward women. Netizens is a hard-hitting documentary that traces the efforts of law student Carrie Goldberg, businesswoman Tina Reine and media critic Anita Sarkeesian to fight back against the trolls.
Shakedown (Leilah Weinraub)
• Friday, Oct. 12, 2:30 p.m., Bearsville Theater, Woodstock
A documentary delivered in a bold, iconic style, Shakedown focuses on a marginalized world that most people never normally get to see: the “unacknowledged tastemakers” who populated a black lesbian strip club in Los Angeles during the early 2000s. The scene they helped create remains a vibrant thread in the rainbow tapestry of modern American culture.
The future of cinema: Sample virtual reality at Woodstock Film Fest
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. A 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.
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.
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 www.woodstockfilmfestival.com.
Moviehouse to screen Little White Lie
The Moviehouse in Millerton will screen Woodstock native Lacey Schwartz’s Little White Lie, a personal documentary about the legacy of family secrets, denial and the power of telling the truth. In Little White Lie, the Harvard-educated lawyer-turned-documentarian (and wife of Congressional candidate Antonio Delgado) explores the history of her own origins, kept from her for years by her family. Schwartz is the co-founder of Truth Aid, a multimedia production company that specializes in fiction and nonfiction stories about telling truths that are hard to talk about.
Little White Lie
Sunday, Oct. 14, 1 p.m.
48 Main St., Millerton