The Woodstock Museum’s 22nd Annual Free Film Festival runs August 31-September 6. with a special emphasis this year on the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism in light of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
The festival returns to the museum, located at 13 Bach Road, Saugerties with both inside and outside screenings after the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to switch to a drive-in format outside the Woodstock Playhouse in 2020. Nathan Koenig, who has run the festival with his wife Shelli Lipton for the past 22 years, said they end up only using about 10 percent of the approximately 250 films that come in.
“This year have your choice of two theaters: One’s a little more open-air where you can a bring drink, the other is a peanut gallery, a little indoor amphitheater that’s air-conditioned.” He said that for the first time they’re also using a wall at the property as a screen. “We like to show great films, we find filmmakers have a gotten a lot better,” Koenig said. “A person can make a movie off a telephone, and it will be good enough for a telecast.”
And he’s not a stranger to the world of stage and film as he started as a projectionist in seventh grade and later bounced around the world of stage and screen both on the East Coast in California.
And if the couple doesn’t “simply love” a film, it won’t make the cut. “The theme this year is an experience…we’re not looking for Hollywood quality glitz,” he said. “They’re not high budget, we’re doing something important.”
Instead of crazy CGI effects, he prefers a film that relates to people, or something social, political, spiritual or mental. “We cover a lot of ground,” Koenig said.
This includes Alyssa Dann’s music video George Floyd: Say Their Names set to air Thursday, September 2 at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. “It’s brilliantly done. She’s the daughter of Mark Dann who must have done 5000 gigs with the Dharma Bums. His creativity rubbed off on her,” Koenig said.
Or he recommended checking out the The Pratt in the Hat on Sunday, September 5, at 2:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. “A woman shares her personal experience about being Black in America,” he said. “It’s an elderly woman who’s been through a lot of stuff about it and she always has different hats.” Koeing said this film will be among several films where they will be a Q&A with the filmmakers in a homey setting.
Koenig also suggests checking out the Canadian film The Accident on Tuesday, August 31 at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. “It’s a very powerful experience this person has when she hits someone in a car,” he said. “This one thing makes her level with everyone, it becomes complex and it has a happy ending.
On Wednesday “Nine Point Mesa Ranch” at 2:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. tells a story of environmental resurrection at a desolate ranch in Texas where all the animals come back, thanks to a man with a generous heart, Koenig said.
On Thursday at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. Wisdom for the Future is just the first part of a seven-part series Koenig and Lipton have been working on. According to the festival’s program, it examines the bold inspiration that can be drawn from the Iroquis/Haudenosaunee when it comes to the “environment, human rights and voting out corporatocracy.”
“It’s government by and for the people,” he said speaking of the Iroquois/Haudenosaunee and how they combined the seemingly incompatible ideas of individual sovereignty with deep care for the community. “You develop your own skills and talents and that’s how you contribute best, and it’s with a communal ethic,” he said.
On Saturday, September 4, Koenig recommends Seeking A Lost Age a two-screen film made by a Grammy-award-winning Japanese filmmaker whose been at the festival at least four times. “She’s a wonderful, creator and spiritual dancer.”
He said perhaps the film he’s most excited about screening is The Album Saturday at 4:15 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. that tells the story of the artists who designed some of the most popular album covers from the 1950s-1970s. “It tells how they interacted with the performers and conceived the visual that goes with the sound,” he said. “It’s a very unique approach to explaining the music industry of that area.”
Lipton suggested two films: Grounders Friday, Sept. 3 at 2:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. and the animated film “Too Late” at 2:55 p.m. and 8:55 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2.
“Grounders is about a women’s baseball team in Brooklyn. It’s expanded in a big way,” she said. “Woodstock has a lot of people from Brooklyn. You don’t even need talent, they take everyone and make everyone a baseball team.”
Too Late focuses on Andy Warhol’s superstar Edie Sedgwick and her abusive father. “She got together with Andy Warhol, and chose people who were alternative and different,” Lipton said.
The whole thing wraps up on Labor Day, September 6 with a lineup of more family-friendly fare like Calf Rope at 12:40 p.m. and 8:40 p.m. and 8000 Paperclips at 1:40 p.m. and 9:40 p.m.
“It’s just palatable to everyone, nothing to shake our foundations, but something that might inspire,” Koenig said.
The Woodstock Museum 22nd Annual Free Film Festival takes place Tuesday, August 31-Monday, September 6 at the Woodstock Museum, 13 Charles Bach Road, Saugerties. It is free for all. For more information, call 845-246-0600 or see woodstockmuseum.org.