By Greg Olear
The hip and the hippie converge for the 11th time at the Woodstock Film Festival, with a slate of new movies playing throughout the Valley from Sept. 29 through Oct. 3.
This year’s docket includes a pair of films starring two erstwhile Sopranos; a horror bill that threatens to turn Phoenicia’s Emerson Resort & Spa into the Overlook Hotel; a meal with Mario Batali; and an appearance by one of the most excellent actors in all of Hollywood. Bruce Beresford, director of the 1971 Robert Duval-Tess Harper classic Tender Mercies, will receive the lifetime achievement award; Harper will present.
This is a big year for the WFF. An intensive “Capital Campaign” launched with the Hudson Valley Film Commission will, if fund-raising goals are met, secure 11-13 Rock City Road in Woodstock as the permanent home of both organizations.
“For 11 years, the Woodstock Film Festival has brought renowned filmmakers, actors, directors, behind-the-scenes industry members, and international press to the Valley, but we have been hampered by not having our own facility,” says Meira Blaustein, the festival’s cofounder and executive director. “The new film center offers us the opportunity to consolidate and grow to continue providing extraordinary programming and economic benefit to the region.”
It is appropriate, then, that so many of this year’s films are about finding common ground. Here’s a look at the highlights:
The U.S. premiere of this film, about an aimless man sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, will be attended by its star, Keanu Reeves. Reeves, who receives an acting award on Saturday night, will participate in the post-screening Q&A. The festival’s biggest ticket. • Sat. 4 p.m., Upstate Films, Woodstock; Sun. 3 p.m., Rosendale Theater
Edie Falco reunites with Eric Mendelsohn — who wrote and directed her in the underrated Judy Berlin (Madeline Kahn’s last feature film) — in this dreamily scored look at three interwoven stories set in a Long Island town. Embeth Davidtz and Elias Koteas also star in this acting tour de force. Falco will later participate in the Actor’s Dialogue, the roundtable discussion that is a WFF staple. • Sat. 7 p.m., Upstate Films, Woodstock
Melissa Leo and James Gandolfini
Welcome to the Rileys
James Gandolfini, Valley resident Melissa Leo, and Kristen Stewart (yes, her) star in this family drama set in New Orleans, in which a grieving man finds solace caring for a teenage runaway lap dancer. Stewart forgoes Bella Swan’s boyish flannel shirts and dungarees for stripper garb, so this isn’t ideal fare for your Twilight tween. And while Stewart is not expected to attend the screening and Q&A, stranger things have happened. • Sat. 9:30 p.m., Upstate Films, Woodstock; Sun. 8 p.m., Rosendale Theater
A woman cleaning out the home of her dead mother forms an unlikely friendship with a squatter she finds living there. You’ve probably never heard of Eleanor Burke and Ron Eyal, the British filmmaking team who made this mesmerizing piece of cinema, but you will. This is a chance to watch their much-buzzed-about debut on a big screen before they “go Hollywood.” • Fri. 2 p.m., Upstate I, Rhinebeck; Sun. 1:30 p.m., Upstate Films, Woodstock
Gore for the gourmet! Filmed on location in Boiceville, this bloody thriller concerns a celebrity chef (James Le Gros) who exacts revenge on the food blogger (Joshua Leonard) who ruins his career. But that’s not all. Tickets include a pre-film dinner prepared by the great Mario Batali (who has a cameo in the flick). The perfect foodie’s night out. • Fri. 8 p.m., Emerson Resort & Spa, Mt. Tremper; Sat. 6:30 p.m., Rosendale Theater
Don’t Go in the Woods
The directorial debut of veteran character actor Vincent d’Onofrio (of Law & Order: Criminal Intent fame) is a slasher-film-slash-dark-comedy-slash-musical. Instead of gruesome death being visited upon camp counselors or babysitters, the victims here are an indie rock band and their groupies who venture into the forest seeking inspiration in the bucolic. This macabre film hits just the right notes. • Fri. 8 p.m., Emerson Resort & Spa, Mt. Tremper
Achingly gorgeous film from an unlikely source: Greenland. Part adventure story, part coming-of-age drama, Inuk involves a wayward teenager placed by social services with a tribe of Inuit hunters. The movie was filmed with a cast of actual Inuit hunters, many of whom are making the trek to Woodstock for the premiere. • Sat. 4 p.m., Upstate I, Rhinebeck; Sun., 2:15 p.m. Bearsville Theater, Woodstock
In 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry egregiously redrew the state’s voting districts to favor his Democratic-Republican party; one district was said to resemble a salamander. Hence, the word “gerrymander,” coined by a newspaper editor that year. This incisive documentary concerns a political issue as old as America itself. Former New York Mayor Ed Koch holds court at the Q&A. • Thurs. 5:45 p.m., Bearsville Theater, Woodstock; Sat. 4:45 p.m., Upstate II, Rhinebeck
My So-Called Enemy
Sounds like a new show in the WB’s fall lineup, and it does involve teenage girls and group dynamics — but that’s where the similarities end. In 2002, six girls — three Israeli, three Palestinian — came to New York for a 10-day Building Bridges for Peace women’s leadership program. They returned home to find that their experiences here had further complicated an already complex situation in their native land. A moving documentary from Lisa Gossels. • Sat. 4:45 p.m., Town Hall, Woodstock; Sun. 5:45 p.m., Upstate II, Rhinebeck
Also notable: Nice Guy Johnny, written and directed by Ed Burns; Camp Victory, Afghanistan, a documentary culled from 300 hours of war-zone footage; My Life With Carlos, about the Chilean director’s relationship with his father, who was assassinated under orders from Augusto Pinochet; The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan, a documentary about an MIA soldier in Cambodia; The Singularity is Near, concerning the futurist Ray Kurzweil, who also participates in a panel discussion.
Tickets are on sale at the theater box offices and at www.woodstockfilmfestival.com.
By Shannon Gallagher
It’s unlikely you haven’t heard of at least one of these films: Precious, Up in the Air, or An Education. All three were nominated this year for a Best Picture Oscar. And all three were screened at one of the Hudson Valley’s lesser known but too-good-to-be-missed film festivals: FilmColumbia. This four-day cinematic event held in Chatham has been steadily growing since its inception in 1999, but has maintained a pure focus on film and an understated standard of excellence that sets it apart from many other regional festivals.
While FilmColumbia has several distinguishing elements, the most notable, according to director Calliope Nicholas, is the quality-over-quantity programming. “Every single film of ours is worth seeing,” she says of the roughly 100 international and regional documentaries, shorts, and features that make the cut. In addition to big-name gets like The Young Victoria or Pirate Radio (both screened at the 2009 fest), FilmColumbia aims to showcase the best in regional film. “We’re looking for those regional films that didn’t make it into the bigger festivals,” explains Nicholas. “Knowing how amazing films can be from around the world, we want to show the best from our region. It makes for a nice mix of international and regional films.” In addition to film screenings, the FilmColumbia program includes panel discussions, pre- and post-screening Q&As, and parties; they do not have an awards ceremony.
Even with 10 years and Oscar nominees under its belt, FilmColumbia has stayed relatively small and true to its roots. Screenings and events are held at one of three venues right along Main Street (which many a visiting filmmaker has claimed looks like a film set) — the Crandell Theater, Tracy Memorial Village Hall, or Morris Memorial Park. It was at Crandell that the seeds for FilmColumbia were planted. When the Chatham Film Club began hosting Sunday screenings there, they were approached by the Columbia County Council on the Arts (CCCA) and asked to plan a festival. The first program the club put together included only 20 films, but what they lacked in volume they made up for in density right from the start: the opening night film was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This year the film club purchased the Crandell, which means a more permanent film culture will take root in Chatham. “We’re the sponsors for the festival,” says Nicholas, a longtime Chatham Film Club member. “It used to be us getting together and showing a movie the community wouldn’t otherwise see, but now we’re showing films on a regular basis. We’ll be having regular events; hosting programs for filmmaking students; reaching out to the high school and the community.”
There is more to look forward to in the immediate future, including FilmColumbia’s 11th festival, Oct. 21-24. While many films and events had not yet been confirmed by press time, buzz was generating around news that some artwork from Hudson’s annual ArtsWalk will be extended to Chatham during the festival, so the work of local artists will be displayed in storefronts all along Main Street. Also on the calendar: “Classic Films, Classic Cocktails” at the Peint O Grwr Pub on Main Street that Friday (during which a New York City mixologist will provide partygoers with cocktails straight from famous movie scenes, while the movie clips roll in the background). And while she couldn’t divulge too much about the films, Nicholas says there are “some real gems” in the lineup. Among them: IFC’s The Princess of Montpensier, which received a Palme D’Or nomination at Cannes; and Venice’s Golden Lion nominee White Material. The former, a period piece set during the reign of Charles IX, is supposed to be “really well done, and interestingly modern,” while White Material tells the story of a white French family living in Africa during a period of intense civil and racial conflict.
For up-to-date program information, or if you are interested in volunteering for the 2010 festival, visit www.filmcolumbia.com.