It’s here: the 20th annual Woodstock Film Festival (WFF), happening from Wednesday to Sunday, October 2 to 6 at various venues in Woodstock, Rhinebeck, Kingston, Saugerties and Rosendale. Time to take a deep dive into this year’s tantalizing lineup and decide what to see! As usual, there are simply too many choices. Of the more than 100 “Fiercely Independent” films being screened, 13 are having their world, North American or US premiere at Woodstock.
Perhaps the most headline-worthy of these is Cheryl Horner McDonough’s documentary Parkland Rising, which follows student activist David Hogg, artist/activist Manuel “Guac” Oliver (whose son Joaquín was one of the Parkland victims) and others connected to the February 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High as they build a national movement for gun reform. Parkland Rising gets its world premiere at 9 p.m. on Friday, October 4 at the Woodstock Playhouse, and the post-screening discussion will include Cameron Kasky, Parkland survivor and co-founder of March for Our Lives. There will be another screening on 3 p.m. on Saturday, October 5 at the Rosendale Theatre. But before either, on Friday afternoon, Manuel Oliver himself will show up in the center of Woodstock to paint a mural at the corner of Mill Hill and Rock City Roads.
Another world premiere launches the Festival at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, October 2 at the Woodstock Playhouse, and in the time-honored WFF tradition, it’s a documentary about a virtuoso musician, to be followed by a live performance by the film’s star and other musicians. This year the feature is Tarik Benbrahim’s Simon Shaheen: A Musical Journey. Shaheen is arguably the world’s most renowned ambassador of classical Arabic music: a master of the oud, the 3,000-year-old Mesopotamian stringed instrument that is the ancestor of the Western lute and all its offspring.
This being a music-industry town, movies about music are an essential component of any WFF lineup, and performances are integrated into several other screenings besides the opener. The world premiere at the Bearsville Theater on Friday, October 4 at 9:30 p.m. of Jason Miller’s Not Not Jazz, a documentary about Medeski, Martin and Wood, will be followed by a live drum solo by Billy Martin. Robert Burke Warren will perform a medley from his David Bowie tribute set before both screenings of Liz Manashil’s Bowie-inspired, science-fictionish feature Speed of Life: at 3 p.m. on Thursday, October 3 at the Woodstock Playhouse and at 1 p.m. on Friday, October 4 at the Rosendale Theatre.
The list of music-related festival entries is too long to recite in full, but one documentary that looks intriguing is David Charles Rodrigues’ Gay Chorus Deep South, which follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as they embark on an activist tour through the Bible Belt in response to a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws passed in the region. (Think Green Book, but more woke.) Music will dominate one of WFF 2019’s panel discussions as well: an afternoon of songs and stories with folkie icon Janis Ian at noon on Saturday, October 5 at the Kleinert. (Bring along your best Godzilla-themed haiku, and maybe Ian will feature it on her lively social media feed!) Participants on other WFF panels will include Emmy-winning producer Abigail Disney – who will receive the Festival’s honorary Trailblazer Award – actors Matt Dillon and Tim Guinee and screenwriters Ron Nyswaner and Anya Leta.
As usual, WFF’s documentary offerings touch on many intriguing subjects, from the Apollo Theater to honeybees, Syrian refugees to fly fishing. The great Barbara Kopple has a new doc out, New Homeland, and Ivy Meeropol has helmed a biopic about the government lawyer who pushed for the execution of her grandparents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and later went on to mentor Donald Trump: Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn. And a documentary that sounds more like a thriller is getting its world premiere: Aengus James’ After the Murder of Albert Lima, in which 13 years of fruitlessly seeking justice for his murdered father forces Paul Lima to travel to Honduras with two American bounty hunters to capture the killer.
WFF has plenty of choice narrative features this year as well. The Closing Night Film, screening at 6 p.m. on Sunday, October 6 at the Woodstock Playhouse, is Noah Baumbach’s latest opus, Marriage Story. Starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson and featuring Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta, it’s getting rave notices from elsewhere on the festival circuit. Randy Newman wrote the score, which may be reason to see Marriage Story all by itself.
The Opening Night Film is Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy. It’s an autobiographical roman à clef by Shia LaBeouf, who also stars as the father of his stand-in character, with Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges playing his younger self at different ages. Honey Boy screens on Thursday, October 3 at 6 p.m. at the Woodstock Playhouse and again at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, October 4 at the Rosendale Theatre. WFF’s Centerpiece Film is Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which won Best Screenplay at Cannes this year. A period drama with an all-female cast about rebellious noblewoman and the artist tasked with painting her portrait, it screens at 8:45 p.m. on Saturday, October 5 at the Playhouse and at 5:45 on Sunday, October 6 in Rosendale.
Seven of the movies in this year’s Festival were filmed in the Hudson Valley: The Pollinators, #LIKE, Swallow, Once upon a River, Not Not Jazz, South Mountain and Land of Little Rivers – so pick some of those if you want to be a booster of local filmmaking. And there’s lots more going on at WFF, including programs of short subjects and animation, films by youths and the return of the Virtual Reality Lounge – although this year it has relocated to the 11 Jane Street Gallery in Saugerties, where you’ll be able to choose from among four different VR experiences. The Maverick Awards – most of the recipients yet to be announced – will be handed out on Saturday evening, October 5 at BSP in Kingston.
Tickets to WFF 2019 are now on sale online at www.woodstockfilmfestival.org, by phone at (845) 810-0131 and at the Festival box office, located at 13 Rock City Road in Woodstock. The box office is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. until the Festival opens on October 2, after which it will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (6 p.m. on October 6). For sold-out shows, there will be standby lines at the screening venues on a cash-only basis. Visit www.woodstockfilmfestival.com/festival2019/films_all.php for the full Festival schedule.
Woodstock Film Festival, Wednesday-Sunday, Oct. 2-6, $10+, Woodstock, Rhinebeck, Kingston, Saugerties, Rosendale, (845) 810-0131, www.woodstockfilmfestival.org