Woodstock, New York is always buzzing, but at this time of year, the buzz is escalated. Sidewalks are filled with film fanatics and film makers for three and half days of movies, movies, movies. And, if the attendees aren’t seeing a film, they are listening to movie makers talk about making movies. This year, the popular film festival celebrates its 17th year. Can it be? But its co-founder and Executive Director, Meira Blaustein, in her welcoming statement writes on how the festival has always been “driven by the genuine love of the art of film…” and that 17 years later, it “still maintains its true, fiercely independent nature.”
Two of the movies shown at the Woodstock Playhouse on opening day were spirited and certainly “fiercely independent” stories emphasizing the “ability” part in the word, “disability.” In My Feral Heart, we meet Luke, a 34-year-old man with Down’s Syndrome who with care and compassion is the sole caretaker of his aged mother. Filmed in southeast England, we see Luke making an English breakfast of toast and tea, bringing the tray to her bedside, bathing her – covering his eyes like the gentleman he is when she steps out of the tub. He shops, does the wash, and in one scene puts on the record player and invites mum to a slow spin around the living room. It’s an endearing portrait.
When mom doesn’t wake up one morning, Luke is devastated, and the social service department informs him that he can’t stay in the home, that he can’t take care of himself. He’s brought to a residence for adults with disabilities and tries to make sense of this new life, and the new people he comes upon. Just as Luke spent all of his life taking care of his mother, he now has to become the one cared for, but in his new friends, he is able to accept their help.
Blind, with Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore, has its world premiere at the festival. Directed by Michael Mailer, son of Norman Mailer, we meet Bill Oakland, English professor, left broken after losing his wife in a car accident which left him visually impaired. Through a volunteer program, Oakland has his students’ papers read to him, and in walks Demi Moore, as Suzanne Dutchman, privileged, rich, and sentenced to community service for her part in her husband’s illegal activities. Oakland and Dutchman make an unlikely couple given her sense of outrage, and his cantankerous personality. Soon, anger turns to understanding, which turns to romance.
Duncan Paveling and Meira Blaustein introduce the My Feral Heart.
In both films, we are reminded that those with physical challenges aren’t sentenced to a life of “gloom and doom.” Duncan Paveling, the producer of My Feral Heart, noted after the movie that their disabilities are another kind of ability.
Luke was performed by first timer, Steven Brandon, who does have Down’s Syndrome, and who, according to Paveling, was an instant professional, being “the first on the set, and the last to leave.” Baldwin explained at the Q & A session that he and Moore spent a lot of time at the Lighthouse Guild in New York City “at length,” asking how the blind communicate when they’re in love, how do they date. “There’s a new sense that takes,” says Baldwin. “Sound means more, even walking on different surfaces like sand or gravel.” One of the last audience comments came from a festival volunteer whose husband is blind. “You captured it perfectly,” she said to Baldwin.
The Festival’s big night was Saturday, October 15, and the presentation of a variety of awards including the Trailblazer Award given to David Linde, whose production company Participant Media won the 2016 Oscar for the film, Spotlight, which was presented by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, winner of the last two best director Oscars (The Revenant, 2016 and Birdman, 2015).
Though the three-and-a-half-day Woodstock Film Festival is certainly the highlight of the year, the WFF works the other 362 and a half days promoting and celebrating independent film, video and media productions.
Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff
Top Photo: Alec Baldwin arrives at premiere of Blind.