For Meira Blaustein, co-founder and executive director of the Woodstock Film Festival, the slogan “fiercely independent” means more than just film made at a low budget. It stands for spirit and professionalism, and it means engaging with talented and passionate filmmakers in an annual celebration.
“It’s such a casual event,” Blaustein said. “It’s the way everyone is treated here. It’s very relaxed, friendly and nurturing, but it’s also very high quality.”
Now in its 11th year, the Woodstock Film Festival, kicking-off Wednesday, Sept. 29 through Sunday, Oct. 3, will showcase more than 150 films, panels, performances and special events, holding true to their goal to deliver the best of the best in the independent film community.
With over 1,500 submissions this year from around the world, the festival has continued to expand by supplying participants with more venues and films than ever before. The line-up includes a record 60 premieres, the highest number since the festival began, consisting of 11 world premieres, two North American premieres, 20 U.S. premieres, 14 East Coast premieres and 13 New York premieres.
“The festival has definitely grown and is constantly growing,” Blaustein said. “The selection process was very difficult, but we were able to select a lot of great films. It ended up being chock-full of great programming in the line-up.”
Ranging from young, emerging filmmakers to award-winning directors and industry professionals, participants of this year’s festival come from every corner of the world and will be arriving in a record number. Some A-list attendees include Edie Falco, Adrian Grenier, Danny Glover, Edward Burns, Vincent D’Onofrio and Keanu Reeves, who will be receiving an Excellence in Acting Award at the festival’s Maverick Awards Ceremony, while his film, “Henry’s Crime,” co-starring Vera Farmiga, will have its U.S. premiere at the festival. Farmiga will also be in attendance.
Despite the fact that budgetary difficulties have kept the festival from covering transportation costs for participants, Blaustein said that 95 percent of the selected films will be attended by their filmmakers this year.
“Some filmmakers are flying in from Paris and Greenland and they’re going into debt just so they can be here for the premiere of their film,” Blaustein said. “They’re so excited about it. They really want to be part of the festival and many of them have gone above and beyond to make an effort to come here.”
In addition to Woodstock, events and screenings will take place in the neighboring towns of Rhinebeck, Rosendale, Kingston and, for the first time, Mount Tremper in the Emerson Resort and Spa.
The festival is currently developing a partnership with the Emerson Resort, which has allowed them to expand programming, said Blaustein.
“We can now present some special events that will combine the Emerson style, class and ability to present really top notch events, along with our programming and our attendees,” Blaustein said. “Together, it’s going to be something really quite spectacular.”
Also this year, the festival, in partnership with its sister organization, The Hudson Valley Film Commission (HVFC), has launched a Capital Campaign to purchase a building located on 11-13 Rock City Road, which is currently serving as a box office.
According to Laurent Rejto, co-founder of the festival and HVFC director, with the help of donations, securing this building as a year round film center would greatly increase HVFC’s productivity by not only serving as an office for staff, but for productions shooting in the area.
“The film center will enhance our ability to continue creating, assisting and promoting sustainable, clean, economic development by bringing jobs, educational opportunities and revenue to the community via film, video and media production,” said Rejto in a press release. “We provide those services for free and with state and county grants falling by more than forty percent, financial support is critical to our continued success.”
Some recent Hudson Valley productions have included “Higher Ground,” directed by and starring Academy Award nominee and Hudson Valley resident Farmiga, as well as the film “Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding,” starring Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener, and directed by two-time Academy Award nominated director Bruce Beresford (“Tender Mercies,” “Driving Miss Daisy”).
SUNY New Paltz Professor Gregory Bray, who has served as a videographer for the film festival and has brought production students to the event to take part in annual coverage, described the festival and it’s status in the Hudson Valley as a place where students who are interested in film could learn from professionals in the industry.
“Today, students are going to have careers that depend more and more on them being entrepreneurs, and creating their own opportunities—whether it is online, in television, film, etcetera, and this festival is a celebration of that entrepreneurship,” said Bray. “The Woodstock Film Festival and HVFC are wonderful groups to be involved with, and I think it’s important to make connections in our community that we can foster and grow with.”
According to Blaustein, the festival’s solid reputation and success can be attributed to the talented filmmakers in attendance and the immersive, educational and inspiring films being shown – solidifying the “fiercely independent” status.
Photos and descriptions provided by the festival.
THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR
Directed by Anthony Waller and Ray Kurzweil
This doc celebrates futurist Ray Kurzweil, who, along with emminent colleagues, present their visions of the approaching ‘singularity’ where artificial intelligence begins to surpass our own, changing the face of how the human race lives and interacts. While also delving into the potential dangers on a philosophical and technological level, Kurzweil delivers an outlook of the future that is both insightful and bewildering; and imaginative and hopeful. Ray Kurzweil will be in attendance for the Q & A. The film screens on Thursday, Sept. 30, at 1 p.m. in Bearsville Theater, followed by a Singularity panel discussion at 4 p.m. in Utopia Studios.
DON’T QUIT YOUR DAYDREAM
Directed by Clark Stiles and Merritt Lear
Directed by Jeffrey Fine
NICE GUY JOHNNY
Directed by Edward Burns
Directed by Mike Magidson
Featuring an all Inuit cast (several of whom will be in attendance for a Q&A, including adult lead actor Ole Jorgen Hammeken) and part of the Woodstock Film Festival’s environmental programming, “Inuk” tells the story of a 16-year-old boy placed in a home for troubled youth located in a small village in freezing North Greenland. Given the opportunity to go out and hunt seal with one of the local hunters, Inuk embarks on a dangerous journey into the wilderness and in doing so, confronts his troubled past. Screenings for the U.S. premiere of “Inuk” are on Saturday, Oct. 2 at 4 p.m. at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck and Sunday, Oct. 3 at the Bearsville Theater.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MCKINLEY NOLAN
Directed by Henry Corra
To purchase tickets to an event or film and to see the entire line-up, visit the official Woodstock Film Festival (WFF) website at woodstockfilmfestival.com.
Beginning Sept. 27, the Box Office at 13 Rock City Road will be open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through the end of the festival. Ticket prices for WFF events range from $8-$75.
Panels range in price from $15 to $20. For more information contact the Box Office at 845-810-0131.