Film Festivals


By • Oct 20th, 2000 •

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Characterized by an easygoing, joyful communal spirit, this first outing of a fest that was so natural it should have happened long ago left no doubt in participants’ minds that it would be back next year and for decades to come. The brainchild of bright, resourceful and intense-yet-dreamy-eyed Meira Blaustein and her laid-back husband Laurent Rejto, the celebration of independent filmmaking, with an appropriate dash of music laced throughout, took over the legendary retro-township from September 20th-24th, and ticket holders seemed delighted with the good taste shown in film selections, not to mention the screenings of My Generation, Barbara Kopple’s new documentary about the three Woodstock Music Festivals: every audience member at the Tinker Street Theater had been in some way involved with one or two of those defining mega-events, and cheers went up whenever a figure in the documentary was known to the viewers on a personal level.

Filmmaker Melissa Painter (left) with Festival Organizer Meira Blaustein

From the beginning, Ms. Blaustein encountered co-operative Woodstockians who gave of their time (the fest was truly volunteer-driven), their homes (to lodge visiting filmmakers), their food (from local restaurants, some of them among the finest in New York), and their venues… This did not mitigate the daunting task of organizing such an event. But Meira and her devoted staff seemed to have thought of everything. Working out of a makeshift office at the crossroads leading into town, the festival crew pumped out programs, fliers, posters and nicknacks. At the seminars, fest volunteers stood ready to hand audience members microphones so that questions to the panelists could be clearly heard. Filmmakers such as Melissa Painter (Wildflowers) and Richard Sandler (The Gods of Time Square) commented that it was wonderful to be at a festival which wasn’t about cellphones and deals, but rather about seeing good films with people who love to watch films, and about the aesthetics. Some of the indies present had been to as many as fifty festivals in the last two years, and singled Woodstock out as remarkably warm and rewarding.

Sunday morning at 11:00, filmusic icon Elmer Bernstein, who as a child had lived in Woodstock, was interviewed before a knowlegable and enthusiastic crowd by Cynthia Millar. He recounted his years on the Hollywood blacklist, two of them actually without his knowledge – he just didn’t understand why no one was calling him with offers of work anymore. It was during that time that he composed, orchestrated and conducted the score for Robot Monster (available from Image Entertainment on DVD) for $800., so desperate was he for income. Eventually it was Cecil B. DeMille, an arch conservative, who trusted him enough to overlook the naysayers, and hired him to write dance numbers for The Ten Commandments. Then, when Victor Young, who’d been signed to score the film, had to drop out, DeMille took a chance on the young Bernstein, and the rest is history.

Meira Blaustein discusses film scores with Elmer Bernstein

Asked to name his favorite score, Bernstein explained that having written over two hundred, it wasn’t an easy question, but offered that the score which still always made him smile was The Magnificent Seven. Then, thinking about a little further, he named two others he felt strongly about: The Age of Innocence and Rambling Rose. Asked if there were any films he wished he’d scored, he quickly named Exodus, and Schindler’s List.

An audience member remarked that his score for The Grifters was akin to Kurt Weill in some ways, and Bernstein was thrilled to hear it, complimenting the man and saying that the comparison was exactly what he had intended. Director Stephen Frears didn’t agree with Bernstein’s interpretation, they had argued heatedly over it, and after he’d turned in his score, it was drastically rearranged. He recommended the man buy the soundtrack, on which the cues were in their proper order, and play that over the film, which got a big laugh.

It spoke well for the patrons that their questions were generally up to Bernstein’s level, but this was Woodstock, after all, home to some of the greatest musicians of the century, and it was as it should have been.

The Award Ceremony was held Sunday night at the Bearsville Theater, with Screenwriter Ron (Philidelphia) Nyswaner as its master of ceremonies. The awards themselves – the ‘Mavericks’ – were handmade and, in a unique and lovely creative flourish, each looked slightly different from the others. Ruminating over the designation ‘maverick’, Nyswaner, a Woodstock area resident, commented “I can’t think of a connection to Woodstock, except perhaps the Maverick gay bar on Route 28…” which drew huge laughter from the audience. Encouraged by the response, he added, “They used to show porno loops on Monday nights, so I guess there is a film connection there…”

Les Blank (left) and Richard Sandler

A special award was given to Les Blank for his long, creative career in independent documentaries, and his films were shown throughout the festival. One of the very few gaffes had occurred on the first day when Blank introduced what were listed as several of his shorts, only to discover that it was his feature-length Burden of Dreams, about Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, that was subsequently projected. Later, at the closing night awards ceremony, a prepared video of selections from Blank’s work suffered from intermittent video distortion. However, the filmmaker seemed to take it well, and was introduced and praised by fellow documentarian D.A.Pennebaker. Afterwards, Meira Blaustein climbed up to the podium and beamed warmly at the assembled filmgoers, who burst into spontaneous applause. A gratifying tribute to both her obvious love of film, and to the success of this event she’d been instrumental in creating.

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