This year’s Woodstock Film Festival comes at a pivotal moment. From the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes to a global reckoning with equity and accessibility, the film community is in a self-examining mood. Accordingly, the 2023 Woodstock Film Festival’s programming seeks to deepen our engagement with these thorny conversations.
The festival runs September 27 to October 1. However, Meira Blaustein, co-founder and executive and artistic director of the festival, emphasizes: “We are very much a 365 organization.” Through year-round programming, it creates opportunities for members of underrepresented groups, including an artist-in-residency program and a youth filmmaking workshop.
The festival will screen about 120 films spanning categories that include animation, documentary, and music videos. Films include the dramedy I Used to Be Funny starring Rachel Sennott; The Kill Room, a mystery about a hit man who teams up with an art dealer starring Samuel L. Jackon; and the documentary Omoiyari: A Song Film By Kishi Bashi, which follows Bashi, a composer, as he creates music at sites of historic importance for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Short films include animation and documentary entries, including What Even Is A TERF? an animated history by Dez Stavracos, as well as music videos to the work of Frankie Cosmos and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Concurrently, the festival will run eight panels. Author and Woodstock resident Neil Gaiman will lead the Union Strikes panel. The Current and Future State of Independent Cinema panel, hosted by entertainment lawyer John Sloss, fits in with the festival’s advocacy for independent cinema. In keeping with their social justice focus, the Climate Storytelling panel reckons with filmmaking in the midst of a climate crisis.
Other panels center around distinguished figures. This includes a conversation with famed producer Sheila Nevins, and a masterclass taught by screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (My Policeman). On October 1, a group of actors including Steve Buscemi, Brittney Snow, and Matthew Modine will sit down for a panel called Actors Who Direct. “What is it about directing that pulls them to make films rather than just act in front of the camera?” Blaustein asks.
The artist-in-residency program culminates with a showcase on September 29 featuring four residency fellows. The emerging filmmakers will have a chance to share their work at whatever stage of production they have reached.
Screenings are often accompanied by performances or events. After a screening of Texas Music Revolution, the story of the Country Western music festival of the same name, lead Kiefer Sutherland performs at Levon Helm Studios. Sixties rockers The Zombies (“Time of The Season”) will give a concert at the Bearsville Theater following a showing of Hung Up On A Dream: The Zombies Documentary.
The festival holds nightly parties featuring live music, as well as an awards ceremony. This year, they are presenting James Ivory, director of films like Maurice (1987), with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
For the duration, attendees can view an art installation about climate change in film created by Lydia Dean Pilcher. The installation, located at the Kleinert/James Art Center, is an immersive, multiscreen, 26-minute presentation. It’s adapted from a short film Pilcher created, which is based on Dani McClain’s story for the anthology Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.
The festival will continue expanding the reach of independent cinema while providing an artistic home here. According to the Hudson Valley Film Commission, hundreds of projects have been created in the region recently, including award-winners like A24’s The Whale, bringing tens of millions of dollars in economic activity. “I just see the festival growing,” says Blaustein. “There are so many people working in the industry who call the Hudson Valley home. I want us to continue supporting them and bringing more and more film to the Hudson Valley.”
Five not to miss at 2023 Woodstock Film Festival
In this intense character study directed by Steve Buscemi, viewers follow Beth, played by Tessa Thompson, through one night as a crisis helpline volunteer. The film paints a diverse picture of grief and suffering in America as Beth talks to callers ranging from a struggling veteran to a teenage runaway in an abusive relationship. Thompson is the only actor shown on screen, though viewers may recognize the voices of her callers, including Alia Shawket and Rebecca Hall.
The Monk and the Gun
Set in Bhutan in 2006, Pawo Choyning Dorji’s story explores modernization and democracy. The film follows a king who decides to abdicate the throne in order to usher in democracy, an American treasure seeker, and a monk traveling through isolated mountains as they inevitably cross paths. Doriji became Bhutan’s first Oscar nominee for his film Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom.
Matthew Mishory’s slice-of-life documentary follows E. Randol “Randy” Schoenberg and his son as they travel across Europe learning about and celebrating the history of their Jewish family. This includes Randy’s grandfather, the classical composer Arnold Schoenberg. Mishory’s films blur the line between documentary and narrative, and his stories center on those who have altered the way people understand art and history. The film’s world premiere will take place at the Bearsville Theater, followed by a performance by the Maverick Sextet of the Arnold Schoenberg work “Verklärte Nacht” (Transfigured Night)
There are so many forces exacerbating food insecurity and harming our agricultural systems that the conversation feels overwhelming. In this documentary, filmmaker, chef, and food equity advocate Oliver English highlights the stories of farmers, teachers, and nurses exposing the struggles of our food systems and showing working examples of change. In keeping with the festival’s social justice focus, on September 27 at 6:30pm, festival goers can visit the nonprofit farm White Feather Farms for a community gathering with food and drink following the screening.
The City of Your Final Destination
A graduate student travels to Uruguay to persuade a deceased author’s descendants to allow him to write the man’s biography in this film starring Anthony Hopkins and Laura Linney. Though the film was released in 2009, the festival screening is a special tribute to legendary filmmaker James Ivory. Ivory will be given a Lifetime Achievement Award, and participate in a Q&A with the author Peter Cameron.