This Weekend: The Woodstock Film Festival

Above: A trailer for I Believe in Unicorns, a film that was partially shot in the Hudson Valley. It is a featured film at this year's Woodstock Film Festival. 

The annual Woodstock Film Festival kicks off Wednesday, Oct. 15, bringing big names -- actors Natalie Portman, Jennifer Connelly, Courteney Cox, and Melissa Leo, playwright Tony Kushner, director Darren Aronofsky (who directed Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan), and jazz musician Hugh Masekela -- to the Catskills and the Hudson Valley to talk film.

Lots of this year's events and panels are already sold out, including tonight's premiere screening of East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, a documentary about Israeli musician David Broza’s new album, made against the larger backdrop of tensions between Israel and Palestine. (Broza himself will be playing a set after the screening, along with singer-songwriter Steve Earle.) 

But there's plenty of films to see -- over 150 of them -- and tickets are still available for many panels, events, and the festival' marquee event: the presentation of the Honorary Maverick Award, which Portman and Connelly will present to Aronofsky on Saturday at Backstage Studio Productions in Kingston. 

Some of the best festival entries were directed by women, said Meira Blaustein, the festival's executive director and co-founder.

"I am very proud of our spotlight on women in film," she said. "We have more than eight narratives by women directors, which is a record not just for our festival, but any festival."

A whole panel -- on Saturday, Oct. 18, standby tickets only -- is devoted to women directors, including Cox, Debra Granik (director of the Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone), Jenna Ricker (Ben's Plan), and Leah Meyerhoff, a New York-based filmmaker whose debut feature film I Believe in Unicorns was partially shot in the Hudson Valley and is screening at the festival.

Also screening are a slew of films that were shot in the Hudson Valley and Catskills, as part of the region's growing film scene.

"There is quite a large number of shorts that were made in the Hudson Valley," Blaustein said. "It's a good strong local program."

In addition to I Believe in Unicorns, the local feature films appearing onscreen at the festival include Sisterhood of Night, which was shot in Kingston; Uncertain Terms, which was shot in Rhinebeck; Late Phases, which was shot in the Hudson Valley; and The Fly Room, which was partially shot in Red Hook and at Bard College.

Another good moment for locals is a panel (2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, at the Kleinert James Art Center, Woodstock) featuring Ron Nyswaner, a former resident of West Hurley who wrote the Oscar-winning 1993 feature Philadelphia

"He's coming back here to the festival to give a talk, a conversation between him and Bradley Jacobs, who is US Weekly's television editor," Blaustein said. "It's kind of a local hero homecoming."

Actress Melissa Leo, a Woodstock Film Festival regular and Hudson Valley resident, will sit on a panel about casting, which will be moderated by Claude dal Farra, who runs BCDF Pictures in Kerhonkson.  

Woodstock Film Festival. Oct. 15 - 19, various venues in Ulster County. 845-810-0131. For a full schedule and tickets, go to