FESTIVALS: Woodstock Decides The Show Must Go On
by Jacque Lynn Schiller
(indieWIRE/ 10.03.01) -- Despite initial misgivings, Woodstock Film Festival co-founder Meira Blaustein determined, "This is such an incredible event, so many dreams are realized here -- it must continue." And true to spirit, the 2nd annual Woodstock Film Festival (Sept. 20-23) provided a laid-back, friendly environment more spectacular than the lineup of films, yet ultimately enjoyable.
Dedicated to "the men, women and children who lost their lives in the September 11 tragedies," the fest succeeded in celebrating art films and life itself, boasting over twenty features, including the premieres of disappointments "Pinero," which wants to be "Before Night Falls," but falls well short of the task, the black comedy "Novocaine," plus the U.S. bow of Ethan Hawke's directorial debut "Chelsea Walls" . A delight was the strange yet hugely entertaining "The American Astronaut" enhanced by the witty musical works of The Billy Nayer Show. In addition, several documentaries unspooled: among them, Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker's special presentation "Down from the Mountain." Valuable workshops and seminars paneled by such legends as composer Elmer Bernstein and master documentarian Albert Maysles provided a rare opportunity to learn from the greats first hand. An equally extraordinary treat was Anthology Film Archives luminary Jonas Mekas' three-part presentation of works chronicling the history of avant-garde film.
Despite the non-competitive feel of the event, awards indeed were given out. Winners received handcrafted trophies made by a local artist. Larry Fessenden's audience favorite "Wendigo" and Jarek Kupsc's "Recoil" shared the Maverick award for Best Feature. "Wendigo" follows a family weekending in the country that are involved in a fluke accident that awakens a terrifying Native American spirit. "Recoil" chronicles the relationship between two unlikable characters, an alcoholic Vietnam vet and a disenchanted Bosnian war survivor who share their horrific experiences and examine the resulting destruction in their lives.
Defeating strong entries such as the touching and provactive "How's Your News?," the socially important "The Buffalo War" and wild and crazy "Burning Man," Gabriela Bohm's "Passages" received the jurors' nod in the Best Doc category. The film is an intensely personal journey the director undertook in order to discover the truth behind her family's long held secrets and how they affected her own sense of self.
Peter Miller examines socialism and communism in "The Internationale," lauded as Best Short Documentary, through a famous song celebrated all over the world. Best Short Film went to Johnny O'Reilly's "The Terms," a harrowing and bizarre glimpse at a doomed father and son's relationship. On the flipside of parent/child bonds was "Helicopter," directed by Ari Gold, which deservedly took home the Maverick award for Best Student Film. The moving short is an autobiographical tale of a boy trying desperately to hang on to his mother's memory after she is killed in a helicopter crash.
In the special presentation categories, The Elmer Bernstein Award for film score, judged and presented by the remarkable composer himself, was given to the eerie "Cadaverous," directed by Michael Fiore. Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler presented his namesake award to Antonio Grambone for "The Impure Glance." Renowned animator Bill Plympton presented Stefan Gronsky, director of "The Box," with the award for Best Animation.
The 2001 Honorary Maverick Award was graciously received by documentarians D.A. Pennebacker and Chris Hegedus ("The War Room") for their lifetime of achievement in documentary filmmaking. The award was presented by filmmaker Albert Maysles ("Gimme Shelter," "Grey Gardens"). New York City Film Project's Torchlight Award for Best Feature was Laura Levine's doc "Digging for Dutch," a fun trip following eccentric characters as they search the hills of a quirky mountain town for the lost treasure of gangster Dutch Schultz. Aside from the general excitement spurred by the possibility of finding valuable loot, Levine taps into the human need to believe in something and the immeasurable value of the simple pleasures found in one's own backyard. The Torchlight award for short film went to "A Little God," an experimental piece by Domenica Cameron-Scorsese.
Woodstock's intermittent delays, last minute changes, and occasional technical glitches only added to the charm of the festival experience. Celebrities and publicists' pitches took backseat to the true message of the festival, art is a symbol of the human spirit.