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The Spirit of the Sixties Lives On At Woodstock Film Festival

Woodstock Film Festival Poster (by Peter Max)Woodstock Film Festival Poster (by Peter Max)

Tuesday, October 2--------For those who actually attended the famous Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969 (or just claim to) or have visited it in their dreams, the word "Woodstock" evokes a fabled time of flower power, sexual revolution, drug-fueled ectasy and a time when youth culture subsumed the status quo. It is becoming increasingly harder to find that spirit of the Sixties in contemporary America (where we have our own Vietnam, but nary a student protest), but that freewheeling and poltically aware spirit is alive and well in the fabled town in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains (even though the famous concert was not actually held there). In a nod to both the past and the present, the Woodstock Film Festival begins its eighth edition on October 10th, with its musical and indie film reputation intact. The Festival is, in fact, an extension of the artistic image and character of the town that bears its name.

The Festival bills itself as “fiercely independent,” presenting 150 films, professional panel discussions and a series of music concerts. In fact, the Festival has expanded beyond the town boundaries, to include the nearby towns of Rosendale and Hunter, and across the Hudson River to historic Rhinebeck.  This is an event where the entire community comes out to participate and, in that sense, is a true cultural event. For New Yorkers, it is our equivalent of the Telluride Film Festival, a congenial and clubby affair held over Labor Day Weekend in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. New York film lovers do not need to travel that far to sample the eclectic mix of films available at this year's event.

Two of the most anticipated films of the season bookend this year's event. The Festival opens next Thursday evening with THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, painter-turned-director Julian Schnabel's celebrated film based on the moving memoir of French Elle editor-in-chief Jean-Dominique Bauby. At the age of 43, Bauby suffered a massive stroke leaving him unable to move or speak. However, he finds a way to communicate (and ultimately to write a best-selling memoir) by blinking his left eyelid. The film, which is also playing this week at the New York Film Festival, won for Schnabel the coveted Best Director prize at its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

American indie director Todd Haynes highly anticipated narrative I’M NOT THERE, closes the Festival on October 14th. The film, a major hit at the Toronto and New York film festivals, is a visually lush and somewhat experimental biopic of the life and times of cultural icon Bob Dylan (who actually lived and worked in Woodstock in his early years).  To represent the many incarnations of Dylan over time, Haynes cast several actors as the legendary musician, each embodying a different aspect of his life. Cate Blanchett, who plays Dylan circa-1966, is joined by Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw  and  a young Marcus Carl Franklin.  It will certainly be one of the most talked about films of the year. The film's producer, long-time Haynes collaborator Christine Vachon, will receive the Festival's Honorary Maverick Award.

The Festival's Centerpiece Films are LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, a contemporary satire of love and fidelity starring Ryan Gosling (HALF NELSON) and directed by Craig Gillespieand UNDER THE SAME MOON (LA MISMA LUNA), the touching story of a Mexican boy who embarks on a dangerous journey alone to find his mother, who is working illegally in the United States. A special screening event is THE FIDDLE AND THE DRUM, an unusual narrative ballet created by legendary singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, in collaboration with internationally acclaimed choreographer Jean Grand-Maître of the Alberta Ballet Company. This  special 55 minute extravaganza is performed to Mitchell's provocative music and is a celebration of the profoundly humanistic questions and testimonies that are expressed so poetically in her songs.

Aside from these celebrated titles, drawn from some of the major film festivals on the international circuit, the Festival is showcasing a strong line-up of independent narratives and documentaries. One of the most anticipated is the documentary STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME, directed by Michèle Ohayon, about a young Dutch Jew  who is transported to a Nazi labor camp in 1943 with his wife and, coincidentally, the woman on whom he has a crush. Two of the film's principals, who live nearby, will be present at the screenings, to bring their intimate historical story to life.

For more information on the varied offerings at this year's Woodstock Film Festival, log on to the Festival's website at:

Woodstock is synonymous with each year the Festival rounds out the festival experience with concerts by fresh, independent musicians. Among the groups doing their musical thing are Mechanical Bull, local musician Chase Pierson’s country heartbreak band; Revision, an alt-rock band out of Ithaca, New York; and the Felice Brothers, a country-cum-rock ensemble.

Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Circuit Editor

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Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

Coverage of the world of film festivals on the international film festival circuit.

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