During the Woodstock Film Festival’s Maverick Awards ceremony on Saturday night (Oct. 14), actor Bill Pullman graciously received an honorary award for Excellence In Acting and, as if on cue, allowed the trophy to fall to the floor and break in half. Holding up the pieces of his broken prize, Pullman quipped, “Oh my God, I’ve got two awards tonight!”
Maverick gestures aside, Pullman was also in Woodstock for the featured film “The Ballad of Lefty Brown,” an old-fashioned western drama, in which he stars. It screened at the Woodstock Playhouse for an enthusiastic crowd.
For the 2017 edition of the self-declared “fiercely independent” fest, currently in its 18th year and held Oct. 10 through 15, the programming was eco-friendly, class-conscious, gender-aware and racially sensitive — a fitting environment for the handful of host towns surrounding the area.
The Best Narrative Feature award went to the surreal comedy “Infinity Baby,” which was directed by Bob Byington and stars Kieran Culkin, Megan Mullally, Kevin Corrigan, Kevin Starr and Nick Offerman in an absurd alternative world where genetically modified babies never age. On the flip side, the Best Documentary Feature was awarded to “Shingal, Where Are You?,” directed by Angelos Rallis, which covers the plight of the Yezidis, a persecuted minority in Iraq stuck on the Turkish border yearning for home.
Other documentaries of interest included “Roll With Me,” directed by Lisa France, which focuses on Gabriel Cordell, a paraplegic man determined to navigate his human-powered wheelchair across the United States in 100 days. Human drama within cast and crew unfolds, and everyone in Cordell’s path is transformed by the experience. This film won the festival’s Carpe Diem Andretta Award — for best reflecting living life to the fullest.
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Some docs focused on unique 20th Century personalities including, “Sammy Davis Jr.: I Gotta Be Me,” Griffin Dunne’s “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold,” “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” and “Arthur Miller: Writer,” which was written and directed by his daughter, filmmaker Rebecca Miller.
The festival’s opening night film, “Stuck” is a strident, socially conscious musical where six passengers in a stranded subway car are forced to deal with one another as well as a somewhat omniscient homeless person played by Giancarlo Esposito. Directed by Michael Berry, this movie extracts strong performances from the likes of Esposito, Amy Madigan and the singer/actress Ashanti.
The funniest movie shown at the festival was probably “Crash Pad,” directed by Kevin Tent and starring Domhnall Gleeson, Thomas Haden Church, Christina Applegate and Nina Dobrey, where a spurned, neglectful husband moves in and parties excessively with his unfaithful wife’s younger, romantic boyfriend. Even further out was the was the animated feature “Revengance,” directed and hand drawn by celebrated animator Bill Plympton and written by Jim Lojan, this comical cartoon pulp-noir follows bounty hunter Rod Rosse (The One Man Posse) as he navigates the dangerous underworld of bikers, criminals and an extremely self-possessed ex-wrestler/politician who might remind you of someone.
The subtext of fathers and sons was present in several features including “Don’t Come Back From The Moon” where fathers in a barren desert town abandon their families for economic opportunity and leave depression in their wake. This touching film received an honorable mention at the Maverick Awards ceremony. In “Waterboys” an estranged father and son (both dumped by their partners) take an oddly eventful road trip from Amsterdam to Edinburgh. The movie also features the music, the spirit and a performance by the renowned Scottish band, The Waterboys.
Writer/director Ari Gold’s engaging new film, “The Song Of Sway Lake” focuses on a young man (played by Rory Culkin) coming to terms with his father’s suicide. In the course of trying to find a rare, valuable record album his father kept at their old lake house, the young man encounters varying depths of nostalgia, family dysfunctions, romance, and embraces the power of letting go.
One of the closing films at Woodstock’s fest, “40 Years in The Making: The Magic Music Movie” is a documentary directed by television producer Lee Aronsohn (“The Big Bang Theory,” “Two and A Half Men”). Aronsohn, who attended the University of Boulder back in the 1970’s, was a fan of a local, soft rocking jam band called Magic Music. This Colorado group never put out an album and blew several career opportunities before breaking up and scattering across the country. Not content to just tell their forgotten story, the band is ultimately reunited at Aronsohn’s behest. The purpose is reviving good vibes from old hippies. Like, in the spirit of Woodstock, man.