Co-founder and executive director Meira Blaustein reports that more than 2,000 films were submitted from around the world - another record for an event that has become known in independent film circles as one of the foremost regional independent film festivals on the planet. "Each year brings with it a new crop of extraordinarily talented filmmakers who offer fresh and exciting approaches to filmmaking," she says. "We are proud to celebrate the work of those who take on issues that affect our lives as they try to illuminate, in their own singular way, what lies in the dark and what is hidden from our eyes and our hearts."
She adds that the process of selection can be heartwrenching. Every submission is screened by three people, and by process of elimination, they come up with a diverse program of varied and eclectic pieces. "Ultimately, every one of the films we preview is good on its own merit, and there are always films that I wish we could have included."
Festival press director Ilene Marder has been with Blaustein since the beginning. She claims that the initial grant proposal for the project - an event designed for filmmakers by filmmakers that taps the independent spirit in all - was "the best proposal I'd ever read." The first gathering in 2000 was an instant success, with excellent programming augmented by the organizational talent of literally hundreds of Festival volunteers who "invented as it went along, behind the scenes," and who have continued to contribute through eight full seasons.
Marder encourages newcomers to go to the website and read about the films, even call the box office to ask for recommendations. The awesome lineup can be a bit overwhelming, but she insists that it's actually very easy to get involved: Just walk the streets during the five days and spot actors. Sit in on a Q & A session after a screening. The actors and filmmakers enjoy this intimate connection with their viewers, and many have said that the audiences at the Woodstock Film Festival are the best.
A full menu, too long and luscious to include here, can be perused by visiting the Festival's website. But for temptation's sake, just a few: narrative features - Marian Quinn's 32A, Sean McGinly's The Great Buck Howard, Giancarlo Esposito's Gospel Hill, Gavin O'Connor's Pride and Glory; documentary features - Ben Kempas' Upstream Battle, Sarah Friedland's Thing with No Name, Larry Charles's Religulous, Ron Mann's Know Your Mushrooms; a plethora of shorts in categories that include animated, comedy, superhero, documentary and epic; and concerts - Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet featuring Béla Fleck with Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee, Earl Slick and Saphin are the EONS, Outernational and the legendary folk/rock/pop troubadour Donovan Leitch, soon to return to the stage for a slow world tour in 2009.
Sorry, folks: The documentary Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan is already sold out, as are a handful of other screenings (check the website). But the one-on-one panel discussion moderated by Doreen Ringer-Ross titled Music in Film: a Conversation with Donovan promises to suffice. Other panels include: Movies That Matter: Do They Count? moderated by David D'Arcy, Contemporary Trends in Independent Filmmaking moderated by entertainment attorney Robert Seigel and Amazing Women in Films moderated by Thelma Adams, among the many engaging others.
And if all that is not enough to satisfy, the ninth annual Woodstock Film Festival Awards Ceremony will take place Saturday, October 4 at 9 p.m. at Backstage Studio Productions in Kingston. Awards will be presented in the categories of Feature Narrative, Documentary Narrative, Best Cinematography, Best Editing in Documentary and Best Editing in Feature Narrative, Animation Shorts, Short Documentary, Short Film, Student Shorts. Jurors including actors, directors, film critics, producers and other distinguished members of the industry will present the awards to the winning filmmakers.
One last note: Three Honorary Awards will be presented - one to the legendary Haskell Wexler, who will receive the special Lifetime Achievement Award for accolades too numerous to mention, but know that his six-decade-long career makes him one of the best-respected cinematographers in the film industry today; one to renowned writer/producer/studio executive James Schamus, slated to receive the Trailblazer Award and to go one-on-one with moderator Karen Durbin in a panel conversation; and one to maverick filmmaker Kevin Smith, whose film Zack and Miri Make a Porno finishes the Festival with a bang.
Can one more superlative be lavished without danger of sense gluttony? And can anyone still resist taking part in this fabulous feast of filmography? It must only be added that Blaustein credits the synergy of all who are involved - the actors and filmmakers, the Festival staff, crew and volunteers, and the tremendously supportive community of independent film viewers - for the ongoing success of the endeavor. "Passion and dedication: Those are the ingredients." Don't let another season go by without sampling the fare.
The Woodstock Film Festival is an educational not-for-profit organization with a mission to present an annual program and year-'round schedule of film, music and art-related activities that promote artists, culture, inspired learning and diversity. Tickets for the event range from $7 to $20 for screenings and panels. See the schedule online for specific prices and venues. Concert prices vary. For further schedule and ticket information contact the box office at 13 Rock City Road in the village of Woodstock, (845) 810-0131, or see the full lineup at www.woodstockfilmfestival.com/festival2008/films.