Ricky, by the much-watched director of Under the Sand, Swimming Pool and Eight Women, first surfaced at the Berlin International Film Festival last winter, where its mixture of documentary-style depictions of a banal urban landscape and characters with a wild magical-realism plot (including several old-style bits of special effects) created some critical confusion. It opened in Europe last winter, moved quickly into DVD sales and has been set to open in the US during the upcoming holiday season (for which it is perfect), but because of the festival release of a second Ozon film last month, needed its own, quieter festival launch site from whence it could start to build up some good word-of-mouth publicity.
Enter Woodstock, which has not only drawn an increasingly influential number of industry insiders looking to spend early autumn in our midst, but has also been valued by distributors looking to break movies in the New York market because of our region's high numbers of second-homeowners looking to spread the word of upstate discoveries downstate.
This inevitably places the movie in this tenth annual WFF outing's top tier of attractions that range from fest opener The Messenger - an anti-war piece starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson in what everyone's calling career-defining roles - to fest closer Up in the Air, co-written by and directed by Jason Reitman, of Juno fame, and starring George Clooney as a career traveling businessman seeking to set down. Centerpiece works include the US premiere of Richard Linklater's new Me and Orson Welles and Miguel Arteta's coming-of-age work, Youth in Revolt.
21 Below, meanwhile, has deep local roots, as well as a key documentary focus on our region as a real in-between tying the City to the film's key locations in Buffalo, where a locally based actress returns, pregnant, on a series of family visits to help mend some of the rifts of slow-developing dysfunction. The roots lie with the trio of first-time filmmakers who conceived and were funded to complete the project, which came out of the actor and film school grads' wish to find a personal story with dramatic potential. When they found one in the family background of producer Sophia Raab Downs - a member (with her husband Jason) of the Olive-based Actors & Writers troupe - a writer was hired to help shape the ensuing documentary shoot's focus, which was then further sharpened via two separate edits and a lot of workshopping sessions (plus some shooting) in our region.
The resulting film has been lauded for the closeness with which it approaches and covers its subjects, which in turn brings to life the internal dramas that characterize so many of our contemporary family lives. By showing in the Festival, 21 Below is acknowledged for its representation of our region's growing filmmaking profile, and in turn acknowledges the role that the Woodstock Film Festival and accompanying Hudson Valley Film Commission play in making this difficult industry a surprise player in our economic developments' dreams and realities.
Similar to what it brings to the table, then, are an equal number of films being shown in the Festival, from such locally made or oriented works as the Hudson River swimming drama Against the Current, with Joseph Fiennes, and Richard Kroehling's futuristic mindbender 2B, the focus of a special panel discussion featuring the film's inspiration, futurist Ray Kurzweil, to a long list of great documentaries with local ties, as well as about half of the Festival's short films, animations and student works. Finally, in addition to what these two films represent, for both the Festival's industry rep and its local draw, are the many films that will be playing that do not yet have distribution plans attached to them, and which often end up being visible only in such settings - as well as the Festival catalogue's role as one of those Netflix-like lists by which to pick upcoming rentals. In other words, the Woodstock Film Festival is a treat on many fronts, as well as a key part of all our cultural lives here in the Hudson Valley.
It all unfurls (and unspools) in Woodstock and the neighboring towns of Kingston, Rhinebeck and Rosendale. For more information call (845) 679-4265, visit www.woodstockfilmfestival.com.