Woodstock Film Festival Turns Ten

Slide 1: Introduction

Woodstock the concert never happened in Woodstock, NY. As the film Taking Woodstock reveals, the actual concert took place in Bethel, miles and miles away. But the Woodstock Film Festival is very much a part of the town whose name it bears. About to turn ten years old, the Woodstock Film Festival is the story about friends, filmmakers, neighbors, and film lovers coming together each year in a small mountain town to create a lasting community.

Slide 2: 2000, Music & Film

When Meira Blaustein and Laurent Rejto founded the Woodstock Film Festival in 2000, they knew music would play a crucial role. That year, Graham Parker performed at Joyous Lake (now defunct) and read from a recently published book of poems. For co-founder Blaustein, the connection to the famed concert didn’t stop at music: “The first year was magical. There had never been a film festival in the area. Once we started, it was like a train, and everyone jumped on. People who knew nothing about film festivals came to volunteer. It was like this vast community just appeared, like Woodstock.”

Slide 3: 2000, It Takes a Valley

Part of that community came from the various artists and filmmakers who lived in the area. Woodstock and the Hudson Valley had drawn people from New York and for its singular beauty for centuries. But most of them live isolated from each other. Early on, Blaustein hoped the festival would “serve as a place for these people to gather.” Aidan Quinn, who’d had a house in the area for years, showed up to participate in the Actors Seminar with David Strathairn.

Slide 4: 2001, Film After a Disaster

While the shadow of 9/11 hung over the festival’s second year (which started just 9 days after the tragic event), it found itself a place of refuge for many New Yorkers. Blaustein remembers, “There was a thread running through the weekend. People talked about what they had learned and how they wanted to fill their life and work with meaning.” Chairman of Anthology Film Archives Jonas Mekas curated a three-day survey of avant-garde cinema, a section that demonstrated the festival’s slogan: “Fiercely Independent.”

Slide 5: 2001, A Different Tempo

The Woodstock Film Festival has lots of stars, but little of the fanfare that surrounds other festivals. “We don’t have a red carpet, nor paparazzi,” Blaustein remarks. “Our events are very casual where locals and filmmakers mingle freely.” Ethan Hawke showed up to show Chelsea Walls, a film he directed, rather than starred in. Documentary filmmakers D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus were honored with the Maverick Award.

Slide 6: 2002, A Festival Coup

In 2002, the Woodstock Film Festival scored a major coup on the festival circuit. Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven was chosen to have its U.S. premiere as the festival’s closing night film. (Although the festival only learned of this just hours before their launch and announcement party.)  The festival’s connection was Elmer Bernstein, the film’s composer, while Cinetic’s John Sloss was also instrumental in bringing the movie to Woodstock. Bernstein (who’d also become good friends with director Todd Haynes) had a house in the neighborhood, and was a clear friend of the festival. One of the awards handed out that year was the Elmer Bernstein Award for Best Film Score.

Slide 7: 2002, Getting Comfortable

Time Out New York dubbed 2002 “Five Days of Peace, Love and Parker Posey.” Posey’s film Personal Velocity was the opening night movie. Later she joined Marcia Gay Harden after the Actor’s Dialog to review the new catalog, whose bouncy cover was designed by animator Bill Plympton. Tim Robbins was awarded the Maverick Award for his “social consciousness, intelligence, independence and creativity.”

Slide 8: 2003, Mavericks

In 2003, Woody Harrelson was singled out for the Maverick Award, although he played down the honor to the New York Times: “I certainly know a lot of people who I think deserve that term -- people who are fighting for the environment and against the war.” Harrelson was there with Ron Mann’s documentary Go Further, about Harrelson’s adventures traveling the country in a bio-fuel van.

Slide 9: 2003, Making A History

From the start, every filmmaker who walks into the festival headquarters to register is invited—well, more implored—to sign a poster. Blaustein figures she gets most of the filmmakers, and “then we keep them and hang them.” Olympia Dukakis showed up for the screening of Thom Fitzgerald’s The Event eager to put her name on the tradition.

Slide 10: 2004, Pumpkins and Pictures

In 2004, filmmaker Mira Nair was honored with the Maverick honor for her body of work. Peter Gabriel jumped on a plane to fly over in order to present the honors. Nair was also there mentoring others. She was the producer on the Dinaz Stafford’s feature doc Still the Children are Here, and did a panel with her often producer Lydia Dean Pilcher. Unfortunately, despite all these many honors she failed to win any award for her pumpkin carving skills.

Slide 11: 2004, More Than Just Woodstock

While the festival started in Woodstock, it soon was hosting parties, screening films, and putting on concerts throughout the Hudson Valley. When famed banjo player Bela Fleck’s brother Sascha Paladino showed his short documentary Obstinato: Making Music for Two at the festival (where it won best doc short), Fleck and Edgar Meyer put on a sold-out concert at Bard College, just a big stone’s throw across the Hudson River. 

Slide 12: 2005, Naturally Special

There is always something inspirational for people unaware of the sheer natural beauty of the Woodstock area. In 2005, writer-director Michael Cristofer (Gia) opened up his mountainside home for filmmakers, panelists, and others. Here (left to right) Patti Edwards from the festival, attorney/rep Andrew Hurwitz, (then) former Picturehouse head Bob Berney, his wife Jeanne Berney, and journalist David D'Arcy get proof that, yes, it is as beautiful as they heard.

Slide 13: 2005, Panels All Day

Panels have become the mainstay of the festival. “Every year we present between 8 to 10, panels,” says Blaustein. “It spans the gamut––actors dialog, focus on music, amazing woman in film.” This year’s Maverick recipient Steve Buscemi (who was also screening his directorial effort Lonesome Jim) joins Donal Logue for an actors dialogue moderated by Martha Frankel. Janeane Garofalo was also scheduled, but that’s the challenge of these things. Stars are just like us––they have busy lives.

Slide 14: 2006, The Other Film Festival

Timothy Hutton showed up to support Hilary Brougher’s film Stephanie Daley (which he was in). Co-Founder Meira Blaustein makes sure he signs that year’s poster. While film festivals abound, often crowding each other out, Woodstock has secured a clear identity. Matthew Ross in Variety explains, “Now in its seventh year, the festival has inspired fierce loyalty from its ultra-progressive local population and has drawn top industry professionals precisely because it offers an alternative to the jet-setting Gotham scene.” This year a documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple won the Honorary Maverick Award.

Slide 15: 2006, A Cinematic Refuge

The Colony Café, a Woodstock landmark, provides hospitably for guests of the festival: food to eat, things to drink, a crackling fire. The building, which dates from 1929, has been a hotel, a concert spot, a public gathering, a pub, and more, over its illustrious career. With Woodstock being basically a one-road town that gets very jammed up during the festival, filmmakers, audience members and others can be seen all day walking along the main street on their way to another screening.

Slide 16: 2007, Trailblazers as Well as Mavericks

In 2005, the festival decided to give a major tribute award to the men of business who keep the industry running. In 2007, the recently formed Trailblazer award went to Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix. And producer Christine Vachon, whose many films have played there, was graced with the Maverick Award.

Slide 17: 2007, The Little Cinema That Could

The main theater for the Woodstock Film Festival is the Tinker Street Cinema, a one-time church that’s been converted into a movie theater. The only ongoing cinema in Woodstock, it was rewarded for hosting the festival by having its entire sound system upgraded. During the festival, every theater from Rosendale to Rhinebeck is pulled in to show films.

Slide 18: 2008, On Line

Every year, the festival gets more popular and the lines longer. Here a group of film lovers spend a sunny afternoon in a theater line to see Gavin O'Connor’s Pride and Glory. Kevin Smith’s film Zack and Miri Make a Porno sold out so quickly that year it shut down the festival’s computers.

Slide 19: 2008, The Family of Filmmakers

The 2008 group photo of award recipients reads like family photo for independent film. The grandfather (like Haskell Wexler, who received the new Lifetime Achievement Award) stands next to the parents (like James Schamus and Kevin Smith), and the new generation, like Sean Baker (whose film Prince of Broadway had just won the award for Best Narrative Feature). Focus Features CEO James Schamus was receiving the Trailblazing award and, much to everyone’s surprise, Ang Lee (who was busy filming Taking Woodstock) showed up to present it. 

Slide 20: 2006, A Couple of Kopple Fans

Festival co-founder and director Laurent Rejto enjoying a moment of rest inside the festival's hospitality lounge at the Colony Cafe with actress Rosie Perez, who came to the festival to present the honorary Maverick Award to her friend and acclaimed filmmaker,  Barbara Kopple.

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