The Woodstock Film Festival will return for its 20th year this October, bringing a slate of independent movies to Hudson Valley theaters, in addition to talks, panels, and Q+As.
Last year, the Festival showed over 50 full-length narrative and documentary features and as many shorts, selecting acclaimed and Academy Award-nominated works like Little Woods and Hale County, This Morning, This Evening from around 2000 submissions as well as selections from leading film festivals all over the world. According to Executive Director and Programmer Meira Blaustein, 2019’s program should be chosen from a similarly massive field. “It’s a very long process,” she laughs.
Submissions are opened at the beginning of the year and closed on June 20. Anyone can submit a film for consideration, from students to professionals. The entries are split into ten categories, such as Feature Narrative, Short Documentary, Music Video, and Youth/Teen, — 15-minute films from those aged 12-18.
These are viewed by 20 volunteer screeners who, according to Blaustein, “can be film students from colleges, can be filmmakers, and can just be film enthusiasts.” Though some screeners watch more shorts or features, they rarely focus on only one category, scanning according to personal taste and availability. With so many volunteers from such diverse backgrounds, opinions can vary, but, emphasizes the Executive Director, everyone is on the same page about what makes a film right for the festival: “We look for films that are unique,” she says, “that have a strong story to tell, and tell that story in a unique, artistic, passionate way.”
The goal is to have every submission screened by at least three people, to make sure that every work gets the attention it deserves. After every screener shares their opinions and rating, a decision is made by higher ups, including Blaustein and a handful of guest programmers, about what will actually show during the festival. The Executive Director is coy about the behind-the-scenes work of the selection process, not wanting to give too much away, but, she stresses, “nothing that shows can escape me.”
Additionally, Blaustein spends much of the year visiting festivals like Cannes, Sundance, and South by Southwest, and has traveled as far afield as the Faroe Islands and Bhutan, as well as keeping up with her contacts in the film industry. Past years have included circuit favorites like Man on Wire, Up in the Air, and Loving. “I’m looking for vision, for passion, and for substance,” she says. “Artistic vision is very important for us.”
This year Blaustein is joined by co-programmers including Nikki Goldbeck, as well as Animation Shorts programmers Joy Buran and Noelle Melody. They cite good storytelling, a unique perspective, and aesthetic control as important considerations when it comes to choosing films. “I look for mastery of craft,” says Melody, “and pushing the boundaries in a way that leaves me feeling something.”
From all of this comes a slate that Blaustein believes is unique to Woodstock. She looks for world cinema, LGBTQ films, movies with a social conscience, and particularly work from female filmmakers, which she programs as part of the festival’s Spotlight on Women in Film and Media program. “It’s a personal thing for me,” she says. “I care very much about women-helmed films.”
But the quality of the film reigns above all, reflected in the WFF’s record, which includes those from acclaimed filmmakers like Richard Linklater, Debra Granik, Jim Jarmusch, and Best Director winner Alejandro Gonzlez Inarritu. She has picked Academy Award Winners as well as underrated, soon-to-be-cult classics, and has screened submitted work from hundreds of aspiring filmmakers of all ages.
For those looking to join these masters, Blaustein has some very straightforward advice: “Start by doing the best possible work that you can and tell the best story the best possible way…And don’t bombard the people who work at the festival with questions,” she adds with a laugh.
Since its start in 1999, the festival has increased dramatically in size, scope, and, according to Blaustein, quality, showing an increasingly diverse slate that requires an increasingly diverse and sizable staff of screeners, programmers, staff and volunteers, not to mention ever more responsibilities for its Executive Director. But she never loses sight of what drives her, and thus the Woodstock Film Festival. “Every year I tell myself that I can’t watch as many movies as I do,” she laughs. “And then I end up doing it anyway.”
20th Anniversary Film Fest Poster is unveiled
In anticipation of its special 20th Anniversary, the Woodstock Film Festival (WFF) unveiled its Official Commemorative Poster for the October 2- October 6 event, which happens in Woodstock, Saugerties, Kingston, Rosendale and Rhinebeck.
In the past, its popular commemorative posters featured designs by Milton Glaser, Peter Max, Mary Frank, Portia Munson, Ford Crull, Bill Plympton, and John Cuneo.
“It was important to find an artist with a real understanding of what the festival is about and what it brings to the community it serves,” said WFF Co-Founder/Executive Director Meira Blaustein. “After carefully considering a number of options, we decided to ask two local artists, Beck Underwood and Adam Blaustein Rejto, to collaborate on a design. Adam and Beck have known each other since the first festival in 2000 and have remained connected to the festival ever since.”
Beck Underwood is a multi-talented designer and filmmaker who has worked as a director, producer, production designer and art director throughout her prolific career. Her films include That Creepy Doll, An Exquisite Task, Stray Bullets, and Stake Land, which have screened at the Woodstock Film Festival. Underwood resides in Boiceville and New York City.
Adam Blaustein Rejto, a prodigiously talented painter, musician, and biochemist, is the youngest child of the Woodstock Film Festival’s two co-founders, and grew up working with the festival. At age 10, Blaustein Rejto’s first work of art was sold during the 2005 Woodstock Film Festival to renowned actor Donal Logue.
Commemorative Posters and signed limited edition prints, as well as t-shirts, hats, cups and other merchandise are available for purchase at The Film Center at 13 Rock City Road, Woodstock, NY, or on the Woodstock Film Festival website.
For the latest program updates, see www.woodstockfilmfestival.org, and sign up for WFF’s newsletter. Full festival passes are currently available for purchase. Tickets for the milestone 20th Anniversary Festival will be available after Labor Day.++