Woodstock Film Festival honors Jonathan Demme

Mark Ruffalo, who received an award from The Mark Ruffalo, who received an award from The Giving Back Foundation, signs a poster at the 2011 Woodstock Film Festival. Photo Credit: David Cunningham/2011 Woodstock David Cunningham

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Running from Wednesday through Sunday, the 13th annual Woodstock Film Festival will screen more than 130 films and host a number of special events, including a gala honoring Academy Award-winning director and Upper Nyack resident Jonathan Demme.

Meira Blaustein, the festival's co-founder and executive director, says Woodstock and its surrounding areas provide the perfect setting for an event like this one, especially since Ulster County has one of the highest concentrations of artists in the country.

"I find it to be one of the most special festivals around, because it has a very rare combination of showcasing some of the best independent films in the world -- and showcasing some of the best and most interesting American filmmakers and actors and producers -- in a very friendly, intimate and casual atmosphere," she said.

Among the 130-plus films to be selected from nearly 2,000 submissions, this year's festival will screen 19 world premieres, three North American premieres, six national premieres and 15 New York premieres. In addition to American filmmakers, those from more than a dozen other countries, ranging from Iran to Singapore, submitted entries this year.

Featured films include "The Sessions," starring Academy Award-nominee John Hawkes ("Winter's Bone"), Oscar-winner Helen Hunt ("As Good as it Gets") and Oscar nominee William H. Macy ("Fargo"); "Refuge," starring Krysten Ritter (ABC's "Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23," AMC's "Breaking Bad"); and "Between Us," starring Julia Stiles (the original "Bourne" trilogy) and Byram Hills High School alumnus David Harbour (HBO's "The Newsroom").

One of the festival's documentaries has particularly strong Hudson Valley connections: "Dear Governor Cuomo" follows Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, who attended Purchase College, previous Woodstock Film Festival honoree Mark Ruffalo, and other activists calling for a ban on hydraulic-fracturing, also known as "fracking." In addition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo sometimes calls Mount Kisco home, and Natalie Merchant, who scores the film, owns property in Rhinebeck.

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Blaustein said she believes "at least 90 percent" of the filmmakers whose works will be featured at the festival will be attending, a figure that's in some cases helped by proximity.

"Every year, we make sure that a good number of quality films come from right here in the Hudson Valley," she added.

One recent example of regional cinematic success happened in 2008, when Hastings High School graduate Benh Zeitlin's "Glory at Sea" won the festival's category for short film. This year, Zeitlin and his feature-length indie, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," are getting serious Oscar buzz; "Beasts of the Southern Wild" won grand-jury and cinematography honors at the Sundance Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival's Camera d'Or Award, which is bestowed upon the best first feature film.

"Now, he's one of the most sought-after directors in the country; he just completely exploded," Blaustein said. "That is actually a fairly common example of what's happening here."

But not all festival events will be projected onto the silver screen. There will be concerts by Simi Stone, the Brandy Knights and others, and a wide variety of film-themed panel discussions, including film marketing, the impact of independent films and the crossover of television and film.

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Celebrities will also be appearing at the festival to promote their films, appear on panels and discuss their craft. Expected to attend this year are Oscar-winning actor and Patterson homeowner Timothy Hutton ("Ordinary People"), Golden Globe-winning actress Sally Kirkland ("Anna"), movie director Amy Heckerling ("Fast Times at Ridgemont High") and executive producer Blair Breard (FX's "Louie").

And then, of course, there's Demme, who's already been a Woodstock Film Festival participant as a filmmaker and as a panelist. An Oscar-winner for directing 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs," Demme will be honored at a gala this Saturday with the festival's Maverick Award, whose previous recipients include Kevin Smith, Woody Harrelson, Stone Ridge resident Steve Buscemi and former Pound Ridge resident Tim Robbins. At $75 per ticket, this year's gala will be held at Backstage Studio Productions in Kingston, where cocktail hour begins at 7 p.m.

Blaustein said she and fellow festival organizers are "thrilled" to honor Demme, who also sits on the board of the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville.

Last year's gala honorees included Mark Ruffalo ("The Kids Are All Right") for his community service and activism, and Ellen Barkin for excellence in acting.

Blaustein estimated that at least 12,000 people attended last year's festival, which has seen its share of changes since it was founded.

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"When we first began the festival back in 2000, it was born out of dream. There was literally no money; it was a completely grassroots operation, with 100 percent volunteers and contributions. By and large, people who came on board had never worked at a film festival before. And it was very homegrown," Blaustein said.

"Fast-forward 13 years, and it's considered one of the most professional and one of the most highly respected film festivals in the world."

IF YOU GO

What: Woodstock Film Festival

When: Through Sunday, Oct. 14 (see website for all showtimes and events)

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Where: Various venues in Woodstock, Rhinebeck, Rosendale, Saugerties, Kingston and Boiceville (see website for details)

Cost: Movie and event tickets range from $5 to $75. Remaining online orders must be picked up at the box office at 13 Rock City Rd. in Woodstock

Info: 845-810-0131; www.woodstockfilmfestival.com

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