14th annual Woodstock Film Festival kicks off

It’s been lauded as “simply and beautifully celebrating the art & craft of filmmaking,” (Ethan Hawke) “unique in its combination of cinematic sophistication, user-friendly scale and down-home hospitality,” (Godfrey Cheshire in the New York Times) and “a wonderful and important showcase for any independent filmmaker,” (Steve Buscemi). The 14th annual Woodstock Film Festival kicks off tonight, sprinkling “fiercely independent” glitter over Rosendale, Rhinebeck, Saugerties, and Woodstock itself with a supersized schedule of panels, parties, music, and premieres, and proving for the umpteenth time that there’s no fest like a Woodstock fest.

Co-founders Meira Blaustein and Laurent Rejto made a conscious choice not to establish a particular theme, the better to welcome a smorgasbord of talent. The resulting glorious mashup of all things filmic fills our local vintage theatres with accessible glory. Many screenings feature director Q&A sessions, and each event offers standby seating even if it’s sold out, so that even at this late date, your chances of seeing even the most popular productions are good.

There are entries that will take you to Israel, Paris, Barcelona and South Africa; in others, the Catskills themselves have a starring role. On Saturday, October 5, check out a special work-in-progress screening of To Be Forever Wild, a collaboration that showcases the connection between our landscape and its inhabitants and visitors. Or for a different take, see Thursday's screening of the “pre-apocalyptic comedy” Doomsdays, about the voyage of discovery that befalls a team of criminals as they invade a series of high-end Catskills vacation homes. On Sunday, there’s We Are What We Are, a tense and atmospheric look at a cannibal family and what happens to them during a flooding storm -- it was filmed in and around Margaretville, and locals can expect to recognize faces, locations, and echoes of Hurricane Irene. 

Other films with strong local roots include Tom Gilroy’s The Cold Lands, in which an overprotected eleven-year-old named Atticus takes to the highways of upstate New York, and First Name: Jogger, Last Name: John, a short piece by recent SUNY New Paltz grad and Woodstock native Kaleigh Griffin that examines the life of a beloved local Woodstock character. This year’s Maverick Awards Gala, taking place Saturday night at BSP in Kingston, pays homage to another local character, as Kingston-native actor-director-writer-producer Peter Bogdanovich picks up his Lifetime Achievement Award.

There’s the East Coast premiere of Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, and Town Hall, an unsparing look at the experience of two Tea Party activists from Pennsylvania during the 2012 election. There are films that explore falconry and the arms race and the search for a perfect hot wing. With over 130 films queued up, it’s hard to imagine anyone who couldn’t find some nutritious brain candy on this menu.

Woodstock Film Festival. Wednesday, October 2 through Sunday, October 6. Film screenings and special events at multiple venues in Woodstock, Saugerties, Kingston, Rosendale and Rhinebeck. Check out the lengthy program online at the festival’s website for details on times and locations.