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Woodstock Film Festival Returns for 18th Year

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Still from Arthur Miller: Writer.
  • Still from Arthur Miller: Writer.

“While film is entertainment, and film is very much an artform, film is also a tool for change,” remarks Meira Blaustein, cofounder of the Woodstock Film Festival, which runs October 11-15.

Actors Susan Sarandon and Bill Pullman will be honored this year, and the Trailblazer Award will be awarded to entertainment mogul Shep Gordon, whom Mike Myers celebrates in the documentary Supermensch, which will be screened. Each of these three honorees will appear on stage, in a one-on-one interview format. (Sarandon’s interviewer is Griffin Dunne.) There are also panel discussions, short films, and animation. For the first time, the hospitality lounge will include a virtual-reality booth.More and more international filmmakers make the pilgrimage to Woodstock each fall. (Starting in 2015, the festival began offering a World Cinema Award.) This season, films from 23 countries will be shown, including 10 from the Netherlands. In the 89 years of the Academy Awards, only one woman has won Best Director. To honor its 18th year, the Woodstock Film Festival will highlight 18 female directors, including Sandra Vannucchi, maker of Girl in Flight.

Still from Shingal, Where Are You?
  • Still from Shingal, Where Are You?

This is the year of the “portrait film:” Arthur Miller: Writer, directed by his daughter, Rebecca Miller; Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, shot by her nephew, Griffin Dunne (a profile of Dunne appears on page 66)—plus biographical views of Hedy Lamarr, Sammy Davis Jr., Ram Dass, and flamenco legend La Chana.

Here is a highly subjective sampling of films, taken from the 120-plus offerings:

Shot in Schoharie County, The Last Pig tells the story of Bob Comis, a farmer who runs his pig farm as humanely as possible. Joseph Brunette’s brooding cinematography captures nine months of the agricultural cycle, as well as the mobile, inquiring snouts of youthful swine. Directed by six-time Emmy winner Allison Argo, The Last Pig focuses entirely on Comis’s profession. We learn nothing about his private life; in fact, we never see his farmhouse. Comis becomes the archetype of the committed hog raiser, bringing his livestock as much happiness as he can before driving them in a pig trailer to the slaughterhouse. But as the title suggests, Comis comes to a crucial decision. “He’s haunted by the ghosts of the pigs he had killed,” explains Argo.

Still from Becks.
  • Still from Becks.

Shingal, Where Are You?, directed by Angelos Rallis and Hans Ulrich Goessi, is a documentary about the Yezidis, a religious minority in Iraq targeted by ISIS and forced into exile in Turkey. (Shingal is an Iraqi town formerly populated by Yezidis.) The film captures the aimlessness and emptiness of life in a relocation camp. “We are dead,” one Yezidi says into his cell phone. A tragedy hits unequally; each generation responds uniquely. The grandparents grieve, the children fight in the rubble, the parents devise plans of survival. When you lose everything, you have two choices: to give up hope or to begin anew. Watching this film, I found myself wondering: “What would I do?”

Becks, directed by Daniel Powell and Elizabeth Rohrbaugh, belongs to a genre I’d never encountered: the lesbian indie-rock musical. Becks (Lena Hall) is a singer-songwriter who finds herself suddenly—at age 35—living with her mother in St. Louis. The problem: Becks dates women, and her mom (Christine Lahti) is a born-again Christian and former nun. Lena Hall has a long, thoughtful face, vaguely reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, which comes to life while she’s singing. Throughout the film, Becks writes new songs, reflecting her readjustment to the hometown. But will she remain celibate in St. Louis? [Spoiler alert: There’s one dildo.]

“I always encourage people to go to movies they don’t know much about,” reveals Blaustein. “There’s so much to discover!”

The 18th Woodstock Film Festival runs October 11 to 15. (845) 679-4265.

Still from The Last Pig.
  • Still from The Last Pig.

The original print version of this article was titled:
"Filmic Festivities"

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