It seemed too good to be true: A movie about a hippie grandmother living in Woodstock produced in and around Woodstock. Starring Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener, "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding" was pegged for an autumn 2011 release in the festival circuit. Perfect timing.
"I definitely had my eye on that film for quite some time," said Meira Blaustein, executive director of the Woodstock Film Festival, which has become an autumn tradition of the independent film world. "It really is the perfect film for the festival, there's no doubt about it."
So Blaustein requested Bruce Beresford's film for Woodstock. She got it. After debuting to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding" makes its U.S. premiere, opening the 12th Woodstock Film Festival Thursday evening at the Woodstock Playhouse.
Tickets are available for most films, panels and concerts, and for the Maverick Awards. Visit www.woodstockfilmfestival.com to purchase tickets. Most films screen twice during the festival. If a film is sold out, don't despair - show up at the venue 15-20 minutes before the screening. Almost always, tickets will be available.
Starting today through the festival, the Woodstock Film Festival Box Office (13 Rock City Road, Woodstock) will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. You can buy tickets there or at screening venues.
Woodstock Playhouse (films): 103 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock
Bearsville Theater (films): 291 Tinker St., Woodstock
Upstate Films Woodstock (films): 132 Tinker St., Woodstock
Upstate Films Rhinebeck (films): 6415 Montgomery St., Rhinebeck
Rosendale Theatre (films): 408 Main St., Rosendale
Kleinert/James Art Center (films): 34 Tinker St., Woodstock
Utopia Soundstage (panels): 293 Tinker St., Woodstock
Colony Cafe (concerts): 22 Rock City Road, Woodstock
Skytop Steakhouse (concert): 237 Forest Hill Drive, Kingston
Backstage Studio Productions (Maverick Awards): 323 Wall St., Kingston
For continuous live coverage of the 2011 Woodstock Film Festival, visit www.recordonline.com/wff.
That's another story.
So, some stories about the annual cine-party in the colony:
The Pan American Dance Foundation bought and renovated the landmark playhouse, turning it into a comfortable and cheery 321-seat enclosed venue fit for musical theater and events of multiple disciplines. The Film Festival knew immediately it wanted to be part of the new tradition.
"It's really a beautiful theater. They've done a magnificent job with it," Blaustein said. "People are going to love watching movies there."
And they will starting with "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding." Feature films and premieres will screen at the playhouse throughout the weekend. It gives the festival a large venue for major screenings, and it further bridges the town's theatrical past and present.
An Israeli native, Blaustein feels strongly about her country's cinematic offerings and has given them a place to be seen by wider audiences through the festival. That tradition continues with a number of films.
"Dolphin Boy," which Blaustein said blew her away, screens Saturday afternoon at the Bearsville Theater and Sunday afternoon at Upstate Films Rhinebeck. "Fat Cows Lean Cows," a political documentary with layers of character, screens Saturday afternoon in Rhinebeck and Sunday afternoon at Bearsville. And "Bombay Beach," an American film directed by an Israeli, screens Saturday afternoon in Rhinebeck and Sunday morning at Upstate Films Woodstock.
Add to those features a few shorts and tons of filmmakers hanging out and taking part in panels, and Israeli film will be well represented this weekend at Woodstock.
World cinema is expanding this year through the festival's relationship with the Consulate of Spain. The festival will screen Spanish film "Paper Birds (Pájaros de Papel)" Friday night at Upstate Films Woodstock and Saturday night in Rhinebeck.
"'Paper Birds' is really very entertaining," said Blaustein. "And the story is a very rich story."
To add flavor, the festival is throwing a Flamenco Night Friday at the Skytop Steakhouse. Javier Limón and Cristina Pato will perform, getting help from "Paper Birds" director and musician Emilio Aragón. Spanish food and wine will be served, as well.
And this seems to only be the beginning.
"It seems to me from all my conversations with (the consulate) this year is just the start," Blaustein said. "This relationship will grow."
Flamenco isn't the only music you'll hear this year at Woodstock. In fact, this year brings an increased festival effort to spotlight music, led by its new music coordinator, School of Rock founder Paul Green.
He'll make his imprint early, throwing an opening concert Wednesday at the Bearsville Theater. The concert will feature Philippe Quint and Nellie McKay (musicians who starred in the film "Downtown Express"), plus Lori Singer, Tracy Bonham and Jerry Marotta, among others, Down the road, the Colony Cafe that night will feature the Gene Ween (of Ween) Acoustic Band. The band returns Thursday to the Colony. And Saturday night brings New York City pop band Betty to the Colony, plus live music at the annual Maverick Awards via Green's house band, Band of Monkeys.
"It adds a whole new dimension of entertainment — live entertainment," Blaustein said. "The artistic makeup of the festival is expanding."
Band of Monkeys isn't the only reason to attend the annual Maverick Awards, which take place Saturday night at Backstage Studio Productions in Kingston.
Ellen Barkin will be presented with an Excellence in Acting Award, and arts advocate and educator Robin Bronk will receive the Trailblazer Award. The Maverick Award winner is director Tony Kaye ("American History X"). And new this year is the Meera Gandhi Giving Back Award, which honors an individual who advocates and acts for a better world. The inaugural winner is Sullivan County resident and Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo, who has been a leading advocate for safe water practices and local farming.
Gandhi, a humanitarian, found Woodstock to be a perfect partner for her world view.
"I feel honored that she has partnered with us," Blaustein said.
"Those kinds of things make me — when I stop and think about them, I see the growth," Blaustein added about the festival's growth in 12 years, which also includes engineering a film renaissance in Ulster County and the Hudson Valley, bringing dozens of productions per year to the region while stoking an interest in film in handfuls of young men and women. "It's very positive. It's about giving back. And it benefits everyone."