When it comes to film fests, two popular Valley events continue to attract thousands of movie buffs. At the Woodstock Film Festival (WFF) and FilmColumbia, which often screen pictures that go on to nab major awards (last year, WFF screened Academy Award winner The Imitation Game, as did FilmColumbia, along with Best Picture winner Birdman), it’s not uncommon to rub elbows with Hollywood stars, producers, and directors.
WFF Director and Co-Founder Meira Blaustein says the festival takes its “fiercely independent” tag line very seriously. “The festival gives a platform to independent voices that might not otherwise have the backing or studio or funding, while of course maintaining very high quality,” she says. But more than the money involved, she says, is the “spirit and creativity that makes a project independent.” Spotlight is always given to films with some sort of local angle (see “Local Talent” below). The festival regularly attracts numerous attendees (Blaustein reports about 15,000) from all over the world. “We have artists coming to us from Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, England — it’s literally an international affair,” Blaustein says.
This is the first year the festival will have a World Cinema Competition Award category, marking the start of a partnership with the Netherlands Consulate, and DutchCulture USA, an organization tasked with the promotion of Dutch arts and culture here in the US. “We are thrilled to be bringing a brand-new competition category to Woodstock. Our international program has always been there and now we have the platform to bring these talented filmmakers to the festival to share their work and mingle with filmmakers from all over,” says Blaustein. This year’s highly anticipated screening of The Poet of Havana, which documents the life of musician Carlos Varela, is even drawing Varela and his band members from Cuba for a special performance. But the best part is getting the red-carpet experience — without the velvet ropes. “The emphasis is on supporting filmmakers and keeping the festival intimate,” says Blaustein. “So many relationships are formed. People have even met and gotten married here.”
Movie night: Woodstock Playhouse (left) and the Crandell Theatre (right), respective homes of the Woodstock Film Festival and FilmColumbia
â€‹Photographs by Chris Hallman (left) and FilmColumbia (right)
Part of the appeal of FilmColumbia is its small-town charm: Guests can easily walk from one venue to the next — like the Crandell Theatre on 48 Main Street in Chatham to the Tracy Memorial Village Hall on 77 Main Street — and chat with other festival-goers along the way. “We’ve seen a filmmaker show up and run into someone they know and go, ‘Wow! How did you know about this festival?’” says FilmColumbia Director Calliope Nicholas. She also recalls that it was at FilmColumbia that Melissa Leo was approached by Courtney Hunt to join the project Frozen River, which was nominated for numerous Oscars.
Last year, FilmColumbia outgrew its native Chatham and ventured into neighboring Hudson, adding a few screenings at the Hudson Lodge. This year, the Hudson Opera House jumped onboard — and, as in Chatham, the two locales are within walking distance.
Poster art by Joy + Noelle (left) and FilmColumbia (right)
Attendees of FilmCoumbia particularly enjoy the surprise screening on Saturday night. The mystery movie is never revealed until each guest has taken his or her seat, and films run the genre gamut from feature to documentary to short. “People trust that we’ll have an interesting film for them, even if it’s one they would not normally see on their own if they knew what it was. It’s really fun to watch them guess what it is,” says Nicholas, who happily reports that the screening always sells out. The 2013 mystery film, Dallas Buyers Club, starring Matthew McConaughey, also made a splash at the Toronto Film Festival that same year, while Mr. Turner, directed by Mike Leigh, surprised festival-goers last year.
The Woodstock Film Festival often screens films with a connection to the Valley. This year, three such pictures are:
Paradise is There, A Memoir by Natalie Merchant
The local songstress directs a touching film about her time in the limelight and how both her music and her fans have impacted her life.
Good Ol’ Boy
Filmed in Kingston, directed by Frank Lotito, and starring Jason Lee (My Name is Earl, Almost Famous), this narrative follows a young Indian immigrant who falls head over heels for the girl next door and drifts further and further away from his parents’ ideals.
Dream Too Much
In this flick — which was filmed in Saugerties, directed by Katie Cokinos, and stars Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black) and Diane Ladd (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) — a college girl spends her break with an aging aunt and tries to find a way out of her depression.
Both fests: 1999
WFF: September 30-October 4
FC: October 20-25
WFF: $10 screenings; $15-$75 special events and panels
WFF: Woodstock, Saugerties, Rosendale, Kingston, Rhinebeck
FC: Chatham, Hudson
APPROXIMATE NUMBER OF FILMS SCREENED
NUMBER OF ATTENDEES
MARQUEE NAMES (from past years)
WFF: Andy Garcia, Jonathan Demme, Sally Kirkland, Uma Thurman, Steve Buscemi, Ethan Hawke
FC: Parker Posey, Melissa Leo, Kristanna Loken, James Schamus (Focus Features CEO)