A last-minute decision to make the road trip to Woodstock on Saturday morning, perfect timing as the season changes from summer to fall. I could not help but feel the excitement of seeing a film first of the day, like “first tracks” on a mountain the night after a snowfall. I get to experience this film before anyone else. Mask requests and requirements make us feel safe. That’s how it feels at the Bearsville Theater, a spot that over the years serves as a special repository for some of the most memorable and fascinating topics, technically well made and connecting us to others in the room. Yuri and I are still able to recall the many films we have seen five-six years ago.
The Year of Covid 2020 (and into 2021), wreaked havoc on our lives, personally and professionally, especially the past six months. In between the medical insanity, I tried to keep up with what I have come to recognize as an essential part of my life– independent and art house film, storytelling, and the techno that comes along with making it happen outside of the studio system. A lot of trends come and go, but the basic annual film festival adventure keeps me engaged, always looking for the Kubelka moment, a moment of discovery, in the programming and the film festival experience.
I honestly had a difficult time with the online and drive-in schedules for watching festival films without the film festival model I have been so connected to most of my years as a podcast producer and host of Film Festival reViews. The circuit, so reliant on physical participation had gone through a severe trauma that reduced it to almost skeletal remains. The Arts in general suffered through political attrition, funding drastically cut to austerity, venue doors closed as were the local businesses during the global pandemic lockdown. Achingly hard to watch, I could only imagine what executive and artistic (some, one and the same) directors see staring up at the ceiling over their beds at night, wondering what the future will bring.
Recent cautious decisions to take back the film festival as a communal audience celebration are rooted in a bold commitment to the cause. At a time of concern for the Covid variants as well as what the film festival experience will be like after all this is said and done, that boldness, that fierceness to the cause, fiercely independent Woodstock Film Festival came through loud and clear. Personally, I’m just as ecstatic with the result as theatrical stage performers are with the lights coming back on Broadway.
Our experiences (as are mine when I go solo) go beyond the immediate to the other venues in this destination town, its sidestreets filled with places to explore, outdoor eateries, shops, and galleries intertwined with signs and banners celebrating a weekend+days. My forte is to get the most out of the day. Logistics for time and travel is ingrained in me as well as the ticket/seating availability for the outer reaches of surrounding areas such as Kingston, Saugerties, and the indomitable Rosendale Theater. The challenges often reap the rewards for another amazing film that impacts my thoughts and feelings.
Woodstock Film Festival’s full house of scheduled events, intellectually stimulating and inclusive from tributes to special performances allows exceptional viewing and participation for first-time visitors to seasoned patrons. I have come across fellow film festival aficionados who give away their unused tickets, show photos of their collection of every festival poster, thoughtful conversations about what we just saw. It never ceases to amaze me on the importance of community gatherings and discussion, Q&As, moderators who are prepared to introduce and lead the opportunity for more insight and calls for action.
It makes me appreciate the documentary Storm Lake (Best Documentary Feature) all the more when an audience member asks why the newspaper doesn’t go digital all the way to save on printing costs. My response would be I still don’t want to give up the physical, tactile experience of reading a newspaper. All the more unequivocal when afterward, Yuri and I set up our picnic lunch at the Woodstock Community Center, a group of young women is at a table nearby doing a plant exchange. They could do this online. On Instagram. Tik Tok. They choose to meet in person, their live plants are set up talking about them. Curious, I ask if I could buy one but they give me a couple to take home. Our interpersonal connections are renewed. It keeps our humanity intact.
However, there’s nothing like the present to review and reassess what works and what doesn’t. It’s something I’m dealing with at the moment with this film Festival reViews podcast and blog. Is it still relevant? Film festivals certainly are and the 22nd Annual Woodstock Film Festival is as authentic and relevant as it comes. It’s fifteen years since one of my first podcast conversations with Meira Blaustein, co-founder/executive & artistic director of the Woodstock Film Festival who is as fiercely independent as I am and a good friend. It works. Very well. Welcome back.