That orgy of cool, the Woodstock Film Festival, returns later this month for five days of exhilarating but calculated excess: 150 films, concerts, panels, and parties throughout the region. Anchored by its commitment to indie films, music, and progressive politics, the annual event has become an autumn tradition: For a few days, the tie-dyed local flower child gets to wear high-priced shades and strut about like a Hollywood insider.
To commemorate the 11th year of this Mid-Hudson Valley tradition, Chronogram has expanded its special preview coverage of WFF. Festival co-founder Meira Blaustein is quizzed about how she makes this low-budget event fly by the seat of its pants and still makes it soar. The men behind three WFF films with local connections are interviewed. Also interviewed is director Bruce Beresford, recipient of the 2010 Maverick Award, who recently set up camp in our backyard for a film starring Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener.
While everyone else has been romping in the summer sun, I have again eschewed daylight for a marathon screening of new films slated for the festival schedule. Traditionally, the opening and closing night films are not made available to me in advance. They tend to be big-screen commercial works that will be in your cineplex within a few weeks.
However, I duly absorbed 37 WFF feature films in 40 days. This was the number made available to me. (To be accurate, I was actually loaned 40 films. However, an Israeli narrative film was pulled from competition after I had screened it and two additional narrative films were screened past deadline.)
My reviews are intentionally idiosyncratic, perhaps even, at times, cranky or combative. They should not dissuade someone from viewing a film. Rather, I welcome a dissenting view. Spirited disagreement is healthy for the film community.
If you place any store by my taste, then you will want to head to www.chronogram.com for companion WFF coverage. There, I have named the WFF films that I feel deserve the title of Best Documentary and Best Narrative Film. (To see if the Festival judges are as sober and discerning as I, be sure to attend the WFF Awards ceremony on Saturday, October 2 at Backstage Studio Productions in Kingston.)
The Woodstock Film Festival runs September 29-October 3, 2010. For schedules for films, panels, concerts, and special events, as well as for ticket orders:
www.woodstockfilmfestival.com; (845) 679-4265.
Arias with a Twist: The Docufantasy (Dir. Bobby Sheehan)
The chameleon in mascara, pancake, and black silk known as performance artist Joey Arias finally attains canonization. Sheehan’s film begins with a recent spectacle, in which Arias was showcased with equal outrageousness and reverence by the gifted puppeteer and set designer Basil twist. Sheehan careers puckishly between Arias’s New York City beginnings (he was a singer, video artist and collaborator with the otherworldly Klaus Nomi) and his recent works, including an unlikely stint with Cirque de Soleil in Las Vegas. Thierry Mugler, Kenny Scharf, and Isabel and Ruben Toldeo attest to this genius, a prominent member of the gloriously chaotic 1980s East Village art scene. A struggle with drug addiction is glossed over, puzzlingly, for it would have enhanced the scope of Arias’s achievements. A richly errant profile of a man who defies categorization.
Camp Victory, Afghanistan (Dir. Carol Dysinger)
Long before WikiLeaks, director Dysinger was gathering information about the American presence in Afghanistan and our training of the ragtag Afghan National Army. (If this were a sitcom, their ineptitude would be laugh-out-loud.) Her astoundingly unrestricted access has uncovered a litany of operational failings that should force the resignations of a number of top-brass personnel. Bottom line: more evidence of our folly that will somehow be ignored by the Pentagon.
* Don’t Quit Your Daydream (Dir. Clark Stiles-Merritt Lear)
Nobody recalls Abinsthe, a hot `90s band whose debut album tanked. The band broke up and destroyed friendships. Two former group members, the immensely appealing Nathan Khyber and Clark Stiles, shove aside resentments and embark on a creative experiment: They drive into a town, connect with a local musician, and record a newly composed number. The results are refreshingly tuneful. The viewer, in turn, learns much about the elusive creative process. A magical voyage whose wonderment slowly accumulates and washes over you. Featuring Entourage star Adrian Grenier as musical collaborator number seven.