Going up the country

Woodstock blends movies and music in mountain setting

What: 6th Woodstock Film Festival
Where: Woodstock, N.Y.
When: Sept. 28-Oct. 2
Honorees: Steve Buscemi, Maverick Award John Sloss, Trailblazer Award

Woodstock might be synonymous with the famous 1969 concert, but one of the central happenings at this year’s Woodstock Film Festival involves an entirely different music festival. On Aug. 1, 1971, over 40,000 people gathered at New York’s Madison Square Garden for the Concert for Bangladesh, a first-of-its-kind fundraiser organized by George Harrison for UNICEF.

“The concert’s combination of social issues and music symbolizes who we are,” says WFF exec director Meira Blaustein, who is ushering in the event’s sixth edition with a special screening/dance party of the “Concert for Bangladesh,” a filmed version of the star-studded benefitnot seen on the bigscreen for 30 years. The screening comes in advance of Warner Music Group’s re-release on DVD of the restored original film, plus 72 minutes of extras, on Oct. 25. Capitol Records is also re-releasing a remixed and repacked CD of the concert disc.

“We’re going to take out the seats and let everyone dance,” she says. “It’s more than just showing a film, it’s an event.”

Politics and music (and, of course, films) are the main threads of Woodstock’s emerging tapestry, and each one is an integral part, says Blaustein. “We have a nice music sidebar.” Docus to be screened will include Tribeca fest discovery “Favela Rising” and Sundance fave “New York Doll.” Washington, D.C., band the Cassettes and jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson are among artists scheduled to perform live.

“It’s not exclusively who we are,” Blaustein is quick to stress. “So many of the films have taken on important issues, whether personal, like ‘Learning to Swallow,’ or global, like ‘The Devil’s Miner.’ ”

Taking its pulse from the Woodstock community, the festival thrives on progressive currents in a laid-back atmosphere, according to attendees. A liberal state senator even volunteered to speak before the films, says Blaustein.

Documentary filmmaker Ronn Mann remembers walking down a tie-dyed vendor street and running into Robert Downey Sr., director of “Putney Swope,” “a counter-culture masterpiece that changed my life,” Mann says.

Not just a haven for hippies, the festival continues to build its business acumen: Newly on tap for 2005 is an industry maverick award (exec producer and sales guru John Sloss is this year’s honoree). In addition, a short-film prize valued at $10,000, in honor of WFF friend Diane Seligman, will be handed out.

A fest offshoot, the Woodstock Film Commission, has successfully lobbied to bring films to shoot in the area, from Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” to the Paul Reiser-scribed “The Thing About My Folks.”

The WFF might always be in the shadow of the seminal ’60s musical milestone, but the festival hopes to expand beyond the past. Besides, notes Blaustein, “the concert (actually took place) an hour away.”

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