Ready for Its Closeup—The Woodstock Film Festival


If I could describe the feeling at the Woodstock Film Festival Launch party at Libation, Ludlow Street, on September 19, it would be “giving.” The folks who run this event, the directors, the actors, the producers, the assistants are at the ready to help give whatever is needed, whether a quote, an introduction, advice, and an hors d’ouevre. It was a grand party.

Entering its 13th year, the Woodstock Film Festival will premiere 19 films: features, shorts, and documentaries and among the highlights are Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut with the comedy Quartet, and the documentary Dear Governor Cuomo chronicling the musical “protest” against fracking that took place on the governor’s doorsteps; it features Natalie Merchant, Mark Ruffalo and Melissa Leo. Look out for the Magical Mystery Tour Revisited, a look at the impact of the Beatles’ 1967 dream-like story, and the feature Archaeology of a Woman about a mother and a daughter, starring Golden Globe winner Sally Kirkland. And one of my all-time favorites, John Pankow (Mad About You) is featured in Putzel, a tale that reminds us that “life is an adventure.”

Among the party-goers was Walter Matteson, director of Pretty Old, which premieres at the festival on Saturday, October 13 at the Woodstock Playhouse. Matteson, though only 32, was drawn to the story of the Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant that takes place every year in Fall River, Massachusetts. “I was in Denmark at a photography exhibit and was drawn to this one picture,” he says of the photo featuring three senior ladies in pageant outfits. “I wanted to know what went on before the photo was taken and what happened after.”

Matteson collected a small crew and spent fourteen days in Massachusetts during the 30th anniversary of the pageant and captured over 200 hours of film. “I was drawn to these wonderful women, between the ages of 58 to mid-80’s who can teach us a lot about aging,” he says. Among the movie highlights, he says, were the scenes where the pageant contestants have their make-up applied by local high school girls, where one contestant proudly shows off her plastic surgery, or the cancer patient who, despite her condition, was buoyed by the celebration of aging that this pageant represents. “These women,” Matteson explains, “have two lives going on. Their everyday reality, and their life on the stage. Many of these women travel from state to state to appear in these events, and it’s a culture not many know exists.” Go to the Pretty Old website to see a preview video.)

Festival highlights also include live events like the celebration of the work of director Jonathan Demme who receives the Honorary Maverick Award at 9. p.m. Saturday, October 13, at Backstage Studio Productions in Kingston. And a festival favorite: the Actor’s Dialogue with actor Sally Kirkland taking place at 10 a.m. Sunday, October 14, at the Woodstock Playhouse.

Woodstock is an easy 90 minute ride up the I-87, or under two hours via bus or train. A visit to the Woodstock Film Festival website will provide detailed information about Trailways bus and Amtrak train transportation from New York, and where to stay while you’re there. Shuttle service is available. One of the hotels taking part is the 1850 House Inn & Tavern recently visited by WAT. (Read my story.)

A visit to the Hudson Valley at this time of year is almost a requirement; the leaves are changing, the shops are full of hand-crafted items from Hudson Valley artisans, the dining is four stars. But the Festival? That’s the place to be.

Photos from top:
1. Meira Blaustein, executive director and co-founder of the festival signs this year’s poster
2. MJ with Walter Matteson
3. MJ with John Pankow

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