When the Woodstock Festival set up camp in Bethel, NY, in 1969, the place was hardly ready for the invasion that would follow. However, when Ang Lee went to film the recreation of those very events for Taking Woodstock in New Lebanon, NY, his film was just the latest in a string of high profile movies to shoot in the Hudson Valley. In recent years, the Hudson Valley Film Commission – headed up by co-founder of the Woodstock Film Festival, Laurent Retjo – has helped bring movies to the area and make it an increasingly popular location for film shoots. In the following article, we take a look at a selection of the best cinematic exports from the area, complete with maps to show you where the action took place.
The Road To Wellville
Director: Alan Parker
In 1994, the ever-versatile director Alan Parker followed up his contemporary Irish-set music movie The Commitments with an adaptation of T. Coraghessan Boyle’s novel about Dr. John Harvey Kellogg’s frankly rather insane practices at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. The movie, which boasted an all-star cast including Anthony Hopkins (as Dr. Kellogg), John Cusack, Matthew Broderick and Bridget Fonda, was shot at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, a historic spa and hotel just south of the Catskills.
Director: Robert Benton
Writer-director Robert Benton’s movie, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Richard Russo, provided the late, great Paul Newman with the role that won him his last Oscar nomination. The movie, about a freelance construction worker, Donald “Sully” Sullivan (Newman), was set in the village of North Bath, NY (apparently based on Ballston Spa in Saratoga County) but Benton shot the movie in Beacon and its neighboring towns of Fishkill and Newburgh, as well as further up the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie.
Director: James Mangold
James Mangold got off to a fine start in his career as a writer-director with this sensitive, intimate indie drama about a shy, overweight man (Pruitt Tyler Vince) who falls for the beautiful young woman (Liv Tyler) waitressing at the diner run by his mother (Shelley Winters). The film’s mood of loneliness and quiet desperation was heightened by the its setting in a depressed small town, with Mangold shooting in Highland, a little burg just north of Poughkeepsie.
Director: Martin Scorsese
In the 1990s, Martin Scorsese strayed from his usual territory with the Edith Wharton romance The Age of Innocence and also this tale of the life of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. While most of the film was shot in Morocco (which doubled as Tibet), scenes were also filmed at the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Woodstock.
You Can Count On Me
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Playwright Kenneth Lonergan exploded onto the film scene with this highly acclaimed drama about a single mother (Laura Linney) whose life is disrupted by the arrival of her ne’er-do-well brother (Mark Ruffalo). The setting – which Ruffalo’s character angrily describes as a “dull narrow town full of dull, narrow people” – was a town in Catskill State Park, with Lonergan shooting the action in both Phoenicia and Margaretville.
Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
The second film from the zany Broken Lizard comedy troupe (after their 1996 debut Puddle Cruiser) was all about a group of Vermont state troopers, but the gang didn’t go the extra distance to hike all the way up to VT. Instead, they shot the movie in the town of Beacon, while highway scenes were filmed at locations as far north as Poughkeepsie and as far south as Briarcliff Manor. The famous syrup chugging scene was shot at the now-defunct M's Cozy Corner in Fishkill.
Director: Rebecca Miller
Rebecca Miller, daughter of legendary playwright Arthur Miller, made her debut as writer-director with the 1995 movie Angela, but it wasn’t until Personal Velocity that she truly had her breakthrough. Based on Miller’s own collection of short stories, it captured transitional moments in the lives of three women, played by Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Fairuza Balk. Personal Velocity, which was shot in NYC as well as the Hudson Valley towns of Ellenville and Rosendale, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and later was the opening night movie at the Woodstock Film Festival.
Down to the Bone
Director: Debra Granik
The genesis of Debra Granik’s debut feature came when she met Corinne Stralka, a housekeeper in upstate New York, who Granik cast in the short, Snake Feed, playing herself. That was then adapted into Down to the Bone, a feature starring Vera Farmiga as a wife and mother-of-two who tries to keep her cocaine addiction a secret from her family. Shot at a number of locations in and near Catskill State Park and centered around Woodstock, the film premiered at Sundance in 2005, where it won Best Director and a Special Jury Prize for Acting.
War Of The Worlds
Director: Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg’s reworking of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds focused more on people out in the sticks than the traditional approach of showing metropolitan landmarks being destroyed. As Tom Cruise and his kids flee north to Boston, there are scenes of dead bodies floating in the Hudson River as they drive through Croton-on-Hudson, Cold Spring and Beacon, and there is a memorable scene in which the ferry at Athens is capsized by an alien “Tripod.”
Director: Hilary Brougher
This moving and challenging drama from writer-director Hilary Brougher examined the dealings between a pregnant psychologist (Tilda Swinton) who previously had a stillborn baby and a teenage girl accused of killing her newborn at birth. Brougher set the action in an intimate community in the Catskill State Park (previously the setting for You Can Count on Me), and shot in the towns of Hunter, Tannersville and Phoenicia.
Director: Tony Gilroy
Tony Gilroy graduated from highly respected screenwriter to one of the hottest directors in Hollywood with this smart, thoughtful thriller starring George Clooney as a law firm’s “fixer.” The scenes at the start of the movie, where Clooney’s Clayton drives upstate from New York City to deal with yet another sensitive situation, were shot in the towns of Blooming Grove and Cornwall. The hill he climbs to go see the horses is near the Moodna Viaduct, just outside Cornwall.