“Ever since the beginning the Festival has had a focus on music,” says WFF co-founder and executive director Meira Blaustein. “This year we have a higher number of performances, and I think that focus of the Festival has been strengthening. We’re more known for that, so filmmakers and musicians are gravitating towards us; they know this is a strong element of the Festival, and they know there’s a great audience for that. I think it’s a combination for anything successful: when you have a receptive audience and you have the talent that wants to be a part of it.”
So far, five after-screening performances are on the agenda. The Good Listeners with Adrian Grenier (of Entourage fame) will perform around 10 p.m. on Thursday, after the question-and-answer session following Don’t Quit Your Daydream, a film that proves that it’s never too late to head out in search of musical enlightenment. Composer and vocalist Sussan Deyhim will perform a musical homage at 10 p.m. on Friday, in conjunction with the screening of Neda’s Eyes, a tribute film to Neda Agha-Soltan, whose murder in Iran made her a symbol for peace to many Iranians.
On Friday, around 11:30 p.m., singer/songwriter Justin Sane will perform after the Q & A following Sounds like a Revolution, expressing his commitment to social change through the new wave of protest music sweeping America. John Cohen and the Dustbusters will perform after the screening of Roscoe Holcomb: From Daisy Kentucky on Friday at 9:15 p.m. in a fitting tribute to the gifted singer, guitarist and banjo player who influenced numerous musicians, from Dylan to Clapton. Also, audiences are in for a surprise when the Don’t Go in the Woods Band presents a special performance on “Fright Night” after the screenings of Don’t Go in the Woods, directed by Vincent D’Onofrio, and Bitter Feast, directed by Joe Maggio. All performances following films are approximately 30 minutes in length, and are included in the ticket price of the film.
In terms of subject matter, films that cross through a variety of categories while maintaining a primary musical connection are Arias with a Twist: The Docufantasy, directed by Bobby Sheehan; Don’t Quit Your Daydream, directed by Clark Stiles and Merritt Lear; Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune, directed by Anthony Waller and Ray Kurzweil; Sounds like a Revolution, directed by Summer Love and Jane Michener; Ray Charles America, directed by Alexis Manya Spraic; and two shorts: Five Variations on a Long String, directed by Peter Esmonde, and Roscoe Holcomb: From Daisy Kentucky, directed by John Cohen.
Additionally, a special panel titled “Music for Change” will showcase prominent and emerging musicians and filmmakers who use music as a tool for social change on Saturday, October 2 at 4 p.m. at Utopia Studios. Moderator Doreen Ringer-Ross (vice-president of Film and TV Relations at BMI) will conduct the discussion among panelists Kenneth Bowser, Summer Love (a/k/a Naomi Preney), Ron Mann, Justin Sane, Sussan Deyhim and Woodstock’s own John Sebastian as they examine the roots of protest songs and the recent upsurge in music that provokes and enlightens.
Certainly, the thread of cultural, social, environmental and political issues runs through the entire Festival, so that the lineup of events creates a tapestry that demonstrates who we are and how we are all interconnected. Films and panels relate and reflect back on each other, amplifying the human condition. For example, the film about the life of Phil Ochs, who campaigned for the Sandinistas, points to My Life with Carlos, directed by German Berger-Hertz, wherein a son remembers his father, killed by the Pinochet regime. Films that highlight the self-realization of individuals within their cultures, like Rock Steady, directed by Mustapha Khan, My So-Called Enemy, directed by Lisa Gossels, and Inuk, directed by Mike Magidson, expand on the critical ethnic issues that they each encounter. Others, like Windfall, directed by Laura Israel, and SoLa: Louisiana Water Stories, directed by John Bowermaster, expose how our machinations with the natural world work – or don’t – for better or worse.
Some films cause us to question the morality of our choices, such as Inhale, directed by Baltasar Kormakur of Iceland, and One Lucky Elephant, directed by Lisa Leeman. There are films produced in exotic territories, like Journey from Zanskar, directed by Frederick Marx and shot in the Himalayas, and others shot in less exotic places, like Delaware County and the woods outside Kingston. With directors and actors coming in from all over the planet and an amazing number of choices, too many to do justice to here, this year’s Festival reflects the complexity of modern life and the many ways in which art imitates it.
For a complete roster of films, panels, events and ticketing information, visit www.woodstockfilmfestival.com or stop in at the box office on Rock City Road in Woodstock.