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Links in the chain

Films with local ties will have strong presence at Festival

by Paul Smart
September 16, 2010 02:02 PM | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Still photo from Windfall.
I’d followed the commercial wind farming battles up in the fallow farmlands of neighboring Delaware County somewhat over recent years, through e-mail updates from old friends living up there and the occasional news story that showed up. It had seemed the ultimate Not In My Back Yard Upstate NIMBY story, somewhat akin to the Gas Drilling and NYRI Power Line Corridor issues that have long surrounded our more suburbanized area…albeit on a much quieter level.

Then I got the chance to preview the new feature documentary Windfall, one of the many movies with a local connection that will be playing in the upcoming 11th Annual Woodstock Film Festival September 29 through October 3, and the whole story took on a new seriousness. Not only did I learn how these proposed turbines, already scattered across the Tug Hill Plateau on the eastern side of the Adirondacks, stood 400 feet tall and shook the land, casting strange shadows over the otherwise natural landscape; I got to see how such issues can result in the long-awaited shift from good-old-boy us-versus-them politics to a newer sort of politics.

Thank the power of documentary film for my new awareness, and appreciation of grass roots political change. But also film festivals such as Woodstock for bringing such issues, and movies, to our attention, putting the battles we face here on the same scale as those being fought elsewhere in our nation, as well as across the world.

The current festival, it turns out, is featuring a record number of Hudson Valley and Catskills-based films with strong links to the region, either shot on location, produced/directed by, or featuring regional residents.

“From high caliber, full-length narratives and documentaries to intriguing shorts, 15 films are being showcased, including three World Premieres,” reads the festivals press release highlighting the works (and not including the many shorter films being screened, including a host of great pieces overseen by Annie Nocenti via the Cine Institute program she was working with in Haiti all last winter and spring, following the disastrous earthquake there, as well as the Film Bootcamp she and several other WFF stalwarts ran in Kingston this summer). “Working in conjunction with the Hudson Valley Film Commission, WFF has strived year-round to unite and strengthen the Hudson Valley film community, making the creation of many of these screen gems possible.”

 

In addition to the jolt of seeing one’s dreams of wind power dashed against the reality of corporate involvement in new energy against the backdrop of our own beloved landscape in Laura Israel’s film, other locally-connected documentaries this year include Sola: Louisiana Water Stories, by  Stone Ridge author/director and National Geographic “explorer” Jon Bowermaster; the world premiere of Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune,  which features a host of  Woodstock interviews about their late friend and neighbor; and the afore-mentioned Marwencol,  about a Kingston man making art from his therapeutic fantasy life with dolls.

Bowermaster’s film, the latest in his series of first person explorations, says as much about recent environmental disasters as any news footage as he explores the vital waterways of Louisiana before last spring’s BP oil spill. Kenneth Bowser’s music bio-documentary of Ochs delves deep into the life of the protest music icon who ended up committing suicide while working on behalf of the Nicauraguan Sandinista movement (itself represented by another film at the festival.)

Making up a category of their own are the four films in the festival produced by Olive-based Glass Eye Pix, and as often as not shot at, or starring, its present-day Roger Corman-like smart horror maven, Larry Fessenden.

Those include the camp Bitter Feast, which will play on a double bill with locally-based actor Vincent D’Onofrio’s directing debut, the horror musical Don’t Go In The Woods at the Emerson, including dinner; Bret Kunkle’s The Horror At Glen Atty; Jim Mickel’s Margaretville-based Stake Land; and Michael Vincent and Robbie Barclay’s Anyone’s Song, filmed here in town.

With stories ranging from Joe Maggio’s Bitter Feast tale of a celebrity chef taking revenge on his worst critic through Kunkle’s look into a man’s protection of his land and Stake Land’s post apocalyptic vampire epidemic, these are all the sorts of works I would have shied away from, years ago, were it not for seeing Fessenden’s brightly conceived and artistically created Wendigo here years ago

And to think, a growing number of these filmmakers are now buying homes in the area, held by the landscapes own sway, if not the hidden drama of potential gas drilling, wind turbine horrors possibly coming.

 

Rounding out the local fare this time around will be the world premiere of Mustapha Khan’s Rocksteady, the coming-of-age story of an aspiring race-car driver shot on location at the Accord Speedway off Route 209; the East Coast premiere of Jake Scott’s Welcome To The Riley’s starring WFF Advisory Board member and Ulster County resident Melissa Leo, alongside James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart; the U.S. premiere of The Resurrection Man, directed by Jonas Carpignano, who was raised in Woodstock; Jack Zabczynski’s We’ll Be Alright, a futuristic, musical love story that also happens to be the first video filmed on the Walkway over the Hudson between Poughkeepsie and Highland, and Fene, a short shot by Tony Leech with Saugerties actress Alison Ball, who also co-produced. 

Rounding out the local films, and of particular interest to a certain surviving segment in town, will be noted photographer and long-time Woodstocker Barry Feinstein’s 1968 band short, a music video prototype, on local musician Tom Grasso’s improvisational rock group of the time…which has never been publicly screened. Although not the greatest of films, the work should prove interesting to those in town still hankering for those wilder, younger days…

And yes, it’s the sort of work festivals such as Woodstock’s, cofounded by WFF Executive Director Meira Blaustein and Hudson River Film Commission director Laurent Rejto 11 years ago, are a blessing for making available.

Tickets are selling fast for all programs, according to Blaustein, so a visit to the WFF box office on Rock City Road, across from the main parking lots, should be in order as soon as possible.++

 

For more information visit the schedule online at www.woodstockfilmfestival.com or call 679-4265. 
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