When indie filmmakers Meira Blaustein and Laurent Rejto launched the Woodstock Film Festival in 2000, they welcomed 2,500 attendees. This year they expect 15,000 at the eighth annual event.
Despite the significant increase in turnout, Blaustein insists that their objective is not to become an East Coast version of Sundance.
“The goal has never been to make it big,” Blaustein explains. “It shouldn’t double in size and it shouldn’t stretch much farther than it already has. We don’t want hundreds of thousands of people flocking to the area. That would be counterproductive.”
Fest organizers might have their hands full keeping the masses away from Woodstock as the film lineup grows in prestige.
This year’s notable titles include Terry George’s “Reservation Road,” with Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo; 2007 Sundance fave “Grace Is Gone,” with John Cusack; Julien Temple’s doc “Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten”; and the closing nighter, Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There.”
“How can you not play a Bob Dylan movie at Woodstock?” quips pic’s producer and Killer Films topper Christine Vachon, this year’s Maverick Award recipient.
Although the legendary troubadour is not scheduled to attend the festivities, Woodstock will stay true to its name by scheduling bands Mechanical Bull, Revision and the Felice Brothers to perform during the fest.
Dylan once owned a house in the artists’ enclave, which is now occupied by a who’s who of the Gotham film community. Thesps with second homes in the area include Uma Thurman, Liev Schreiber, Marcia Gay Harden and Aidan Quinn.
“I find that Woodstock is a special little place that has one to two degrees of separation from a very large number of key people in the industry who are either related to someone or who have friends with homes here,” Blaustein says. “It’s sort of a hub for creative spirits of all types but especially within the film realm.”
Having A-list residents in the fest’s backyard doesn’t hurt when it comes time to attract celebs and industryites to the four-day fest.
“It is always a process (to get people here), but the festival really does have a lot of good friends out there,” Blaustein admits.
This year those friends have attracted panelists and fest participants including “Married Life” helmer-writer Ira Sachs and thesp Patricia Clarkson, first-time helmer Mary Stuart Masterson (“The Cake Eaters”), Robert Stone (“Oswald’s Ghost”) and Brett Morgen (“Chicago 10”).
“There are a lot of people (at the fest) who are important in the industry, but nonetheless, it feels totally low key and mellow while you are there,” says helmer Nina Davenport, who took home the Woodstock 2004 audience award for her docu “Parallel Lines.”
This year, Davenport brings her latest doc, “Operation Filmmaker,” to the fest. After screening the film at this year’s Rotterdam, Sydney and Toronto film festivals, Davenport says she is looking forward to “having fun” at Woodstock.
“Like Telluride, it is a real film lovers festival,” adds Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer and this year’s Trailblazer Award honoree. “It’s a little less focused on the business of film and more about the film itself. So I think that is why a lot of people go out of their way to go up there.”
When Blaustein co-founded the fest she also helped create a film commission, which brought production to the area, including “War of the Worlds” and “Personal Velocity.”
Despite Hollywood’s interest in the community, Blaustein is determined to stay true to the fest’s motto, “Fiercely Independent,” throughout its existence.
“It’s not the little festival it was in the year 2000,” she says. “It has grown. That was inevitable. But we want to make sure that we keep it as intimate and manageable as possible.”
Dates: Oct. 10-14
Venues: Woodstock, Rhinebeck, Hunter and Rosendale
Prizes: More than $20,000 in cash and goods
Preems: Eight world; seven U.S.; 15 Gotham; nine East Coast; two North American
Films: 112 total; 23 narratives; 28 docs; 61 shorts
Opening Night: Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
Closing Night: Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There”
Centerpiece films: Patricia Riggen’s “La misma luna” (Under the Same Moon); Ira Sachs’ “Married Life”
Narratives in competition: “August Evening” (Chris Eska); “Choose Connor” (Luke Eberl); “In Search of a Midnight Kiss” (Alex Holdridge); “Liberty Kid” (Ilya Chaiken); “The Living Wake” (Sol Tryon); “Neal Cassady” (Noah Buschel)
Docus in competition: “Billy the Kid” (Jennifer Venditti); “Constantine’s Sword” (Oren Jacoby); “The Cool School” (Morgan Neville); “Iron Ladies of Liberia” (Daniel Junge and Siatta Scott Johnson); “Making Trouble” (Rachel Talbot); “Moving Midway” (Godfrey Cheshire); “Run Granny Run” (Marlo Poras)
Panel topics: Entertainment Law; Where Journalism Ends and Filmmaking Begins; BMI Music for Film; Amazing Women in Film; Film Distribution in the 21st Century; Indie Filmmakers Talk; Actors Dialogue
Toppers: Meira Blaustein, co-founder and exec director; Laurent Rejito, co-founder, director of development and programmer
Honorees: Killer Films’ Christine Vachon (Maverick Award); Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos (Honorary Trailblazer Award)