By Brian Brooks | Indiewire September 26, 2011 at 2:57AM
Director Andrew D. MacClean's "On the Ice" proved to be one of the hottest features at the 12th Woodstock Film Festival, which wrapped Sunday night after five days of movies, concerts, panels and parties.
The story of two Inupiat teenagers who make an ill-advised decision to cover up a tragedy took laurels for best narrative feature and for best cinematography (by Loi Crawley). It is set in MacClean's hometown, Barrow, Alaska, where the sun never rises from November to January and never sets from May to August.
“It’s really nice to be able to take the film to Woodstock and to be able to reach audiences,” said MacLean about his first feature.
Prize for best feature documentary went to "Semper Fi: Always Faithful," by directors Tony Hardmon and Rachel Libert. It tells of retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger quest to hold the Marines accountable for contamination of drinking water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina that exposed thousands of soldiers and their families to carcinogens. One of the victims was Ensminger 9=year-old daughter, who died of a rare form of leukemia while he was stationed at the base.
Ensminger, a 20-year Marine vet, joined the movie's directors on stage at Saturday night's awards ceremony, and broke down when he said that that very day, Sept. 24, was the anniversary of his daughter's death.
The environment also played a part in the festival's presentation of its first Meera Gandhi Giving Back Award. It went to actor Mark Ruffalo for his efforts against hydraulic fracking - a controversial method of extracting natural gas from the land. "This needs to be stopped, and we're the generation to do it," Ruffalo said to cheers.
Backstage before the ceremony, Ruffalo told indieWIRE: "The award is very humbling experience, I never got anything like this. It's something I'm very grateful for, but I have to share it with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have taken up this fight against fracking."
"Fracking is a relatively new technology, and there have been no credible, long-term studies of what it does. The stuff's been there for hundreds of millions of years and will be there hopefully for another hundreds of million years, and I don't see a rush on why to get this going. Our air and water quality are at risk. If it wasn't for Dick Cheney's energy plan in 2005, this would be illegal, it wouldn't be happening. The oil and gas industry is such a pig."
Turning to movies, Ruffalo said he just wrapped "Avengers," playing the Hulk. "And I'm going to do a movie with Tim Robbins and Gwyneth Paltrow called 'Thanks for Sharing,'" he offered up.
Ellen Barkin was at the fest for an "excellence in acting" award and a screening of her newest movie, "Another Happy Day," the story of a dysfunctional family gathering for a wedding. It's directed by Berkin's boyfriend, Sam Levinson, whose dad, Barry Levinson, directed Barkin in her breakthrough movie, "Diner," back in 1982. At a screening attended by both Levinsons, Barkin said the movie was "about desperately trying to communicate." It features a standout performance by Ezra Miller as a drug-addicted teenager.
Barkin received her prize from a bearded Vincent D'Onofrio, who noted at the ceremony: "I don't go out a lot, but I wouldn't miss this for the world."
In the ceremony's most surreal moment, wild-bearded British director Tony Kaye ("American History X") accepted the festival's Honorary Maverick Award in a very-Woodstock way - with a song. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, he sang an original number, "Love Beats Death," after which he left the stage without further comment. Kaye's latest, "Detachment," was the closing-night film.
The fest was a mix of high-profile movies and hidden treasures. Among the former was Bruce Beresford's comedy "Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding," starring Jane Fonda as a hippie grandmother. Shot in Woodstock, it proved so popular that the festival added two screenings. "It was like watching a home movie because I saw so many people and places I know," one local was heard telling a friend.
"This film is going to take you on quite a ride," festival executive director Meira Blaustein correctly predicted before a screening of one of the hidden treasures, Aimee Lagos' "96 Minutes,'' about four young people whose lives are forever altered by racism. "The movie was inspired by real events and is a real labor of love," Lagos said. The cast includes Evan Ross, son of singer Diana Ross.
Another small movie that won audience praise was "Ponies," directed by Bronx-born Nick Sandow, the gritty tale of two immigrants - one played by John Ventimiglia of "The Sopranos'' - whose lives cross in a New York City OTB parlor.
2011 Woodstock Film Festival winners with credits and information provided by the festival:
The Lee Marvin Award for Best Feature Narrative: "On The Ice," Dir. Andrew O. MacLean. Presented by Academy Award(R) Winning Actor Timothy Hutton, Academy Award(R) nominated Director Debra Granik, Marketing/Distribution Executive Richard Abramowitz.
The Maverick Award for Best Feature Documentary: "Semper Fi: Always Faithful," Dir: Tony Hardmon & Rachel Libert (Winner), Skateistan: Four Wheels and a Board in Kabul, Dir: Kai Sehr (Honorable Mention) and Dolphin Boy, Dir: Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir (Honorable Mention). Presented by Academy Award(R) Winning Director Barbara Kopple, Producer Stephen Nemeth, Producer Deirdre Haj.
The Maverick Award for Best Animation: "Luminaris," Dir. Juan Pablo Zaramella. Presented by Academy Award(R) Winning Director Chris Wedge, Academy Award(R) Nominated Animator Bill Plympton, and Animator Signe Baumane.
The Diane Seligman Award for Best Short Narrative: "We're Leaving," Dir. Zachary Treitz (Winner), Block, Dir. Chadd Harbold (Honorable Mention). Presented by Producer/Talent Manager Marie Therese Guirgis, Casting Director Amy Devra Gossels, and Entertainment Lawyer/Producer Jonathan Gray.
The Diane Seligman Award for Best Student Short Film: "The Recorder Exam," Dir. Bora Kim (Winner), Manhattan Melody, Dir: Sasha Gordon (Runner Up), Babyland, Dir: Marc Fatello (Honorable Mention), Bayou Black, Dir. Jonas Carpignano (Honorable Mention), Gravity, Dir. Pamela Romanowsky (Honorable Mention). Presented by Writer/Producer Jospeh Muszynski, Golden Globe Winning Actor Lori Singer, and Producer/Marketing & Distribution Executive Isil Bagdadi.
The Diane Seligman Award for Best Short Documentary: "Poetry of Resilience," Dir: Katja Esson (Winner), The Thing That Happened, Dir. Andrew Walton (Honorable Mention). Presented by Director Lisa Gossels, Producer Todd Wider, and Director Hugo Perez.
The Haskell Wexler Award for Best Cinematography: "On The Ice," Director of Photography: Lol Crawley (Winner) Presented by Academy Award(R) Nominated Cinematographer Ellen Kuras.
"The selection of the best photography is very difficult. The one I have chosen, On The Ice, shot by Lol Crawley, is noteworthy in a number of ways. Shot where the sun doesn't set until August, we see people moving in frames of negaitve space in incredibly difficult and artfully conceived shots. The party interiors offer some smooth handheld work, where the style fits the visual storytelling in contrast with the formal, colder frames. All this is just me trying to give words to my subjective reaction to the visuals. And since I'm privilaged to give this award, you can see that Lol Crawley's work deserves this Woodstock Award." Haskell Wexler.
James Lyons Award for Best Editing of a Feature Narrative: "Tilt," Kostadin Kostadinov, Zorica Nikolova (Winners), 96 Minutes, Aram Nigoghossian (Honorable Mention).
James Lyons Award for Best Editing of a Feature Documentary: Bombay Beach, Alma Har'el, Joe Lindquist (Winners), Semper Fi: "Always Faithful," Purcell Carson (Honorable Mention)
The James Lyons Awards for Best Editing were presented by accomplished editors Sabine Hoffman, Sabine Krayenbuhl, and Doug Abel.
Honorary Trailblazing Award: CEO of The Creative Coalition Robin Bronk. Presented by actor/director Tim Blake Nelson.
Honorary Maverick Award: Director Tony Kaye ("American History X"). Presented by actor/director Tim Blake Nelson.
Meera Gandhi Giving Back Award: Actor Mark Ruffalo ("Reservation Road," "The Kids Are All Right"). Presented by Meera Gandhi.
Excellence in Acting Award: Actor Ellen Barkin ("Another Happy Day," "Sea of Love"). Presented by actor/director Vincent D'Onofrio.