WFF Audience Award Winners

The winners of the 16th Annual Woodstock Film Festival Audience awards are:

Good Ol’ Boy, directed by Frank Lotito, won the audience award for best narrative feature. The film was shot in Kingston and tells the story of an Indian boy who wants to become an all-American good old boy.

There was a tie for the audience award for best documentary feature:

She’s the Best Thing In It, directed by Ron Nyswaner about the career of 79-year-old character actress Mary Louise Wilson, a Tony-award winner and Broadway star who lives in Ulster county.

The second audience favorite in the documentary feature category was Left on Purpose, directed by Justin Schein, about the life of political activist Mayer Vishner and his plan to end his own life.

— Deb Medenbach

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A Kingston Good Ol’ Boy

When Australian comedian and film producer Frank Lotito considered where to set his 1979-era coming of age, American dream story, where did he land?

Kingston, NY.

“We needed a place that could be Anywhere, USA. It’s a period piece that we wanted to work equally well as the Eastern United States or a little town outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico,” said producer Anjul Nigam. “Kingston fit that beautifully. The people went out of their way to be welcoming and accommodating.”

The 1970s tale of an Indian boy caught between Hindu traditions and his desire to be an all-American ‘good old boy’, came to the attention of location scout Jillian Fisher, who immediately envisioned Dietz Court in Kingston as the ideal place for the comedy to unfold.

“I’m usually the first call a film company makes because if I can’t find locations that work with the story, they don’t come here. The first place I showed them was Dietz Court and that’s what they went with. It’s a period piece, so we also shot scenes at Sophie Finn Elementary School which fit the era. A year later, that’s now a satellite campus for SUNY Ulster, so we’ve saved Sophie Finn on film for all the children who went there.”

The film also made use of the Wurts Street Bridge, Montrepose Cemetery and Duo Bistro, made over to look like a KFC franchise. Crews stayed for extended periods at the Best Western on Washington Avenue, walking distance to some scene sets.

“Kingston itself becomes a character in the movie. I love that the filmmakers return to screen their films here at the festival,” Fisher said. “People who were in the movie are in the audience and the filmmakers get a reaction like they would get nowhere else. There’s a sense of community.”

Nigam said the whole production was streamlined with help from Laurent Rejto and the Hudson Valley Film Commission, providing local contacts for professional film services.

Good Ol’ Boy screens at 2 p.m. Oct 2 at the Woodstock Playhouse and at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at Rosendale Theater. Writer/actor Anjul Nigam and producer/director Frank Lotito will be on hand for the post-screening Q&A.

— Deb Medenbach

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Going Dutch

2015 marks the introduction of the New World Cinema competition category at the Woodstock Film Festival, including a special Focus on Dutch Cinema. The competition is sponsored by the Netherlands Consulate and the Department of Dutch Culture USA and in collaboration with Bruce Weiss (Ironworks Productions) and Andre Naus (Eye International in the Netherlands).

“DutchCulture USA, the Cultural Department of the Netherlands Embassy, tasked with the promotion of Dutch arts and culture in the United States, is delighted to announce our collaboration with the Woodstock Film Festival. This year’s focus on Dutch film is a new collaboration to promote creative, cultural and educational exchange between Dutch and American filmmakers,” said the Netherland’s Consulate General in NY’s representative.

Three Dutch films (Rendez-vous, Meet Me in Venice, and Summer) are joined in the competition by Irish-Russian film Moscow Never Sleeps and the Swedish offering, There Should Be Rules.

The Netherlands Consulate will also host the Friday night filmmaker’s party.

— Deb Medenbach


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2015 WFF Opening day and musical musings

The Woodstock Film Festival launches into full swing today with an opening keynote address by documentary filmmaker Josh Fox (Gasland I and II) at 4 p.m. at the Kleinert James Arts Center on Tinker Street. Topic? “Filmmaking, Human Rights and the Climate.”

Later Ron Chapman’s film “The Poet of Havana” screens at 7:30 p.m. at Ulster Performing Arts Center, 601 Broadway in Kingston. The film profiles Varela’s 30-year struggle against censorship in Cuba, and features Varela, American musician Jackson Browne, and actor Benicio del Toro. A performance by Varela and his band, joined by Jackson Browne, follows the film screening. Tickets are $60.

Music fans can also look for some of their favorite performers in unexpected roles. Rock singer Natalie Merchant presents the world premiere of her film Paradise Is There, A Memoir by Natalie Merchant, The New Tigerlily Recordings at 9:15 p.m. on Thursday at the Woodstock Playhouse. Merchant wrote and directed the film, producedby Jon Bowermaster. Both will be present for the post-screening Q&A.

Stuart Copeland, drummer for The Police, joins chant master Krishna Das and filmmaker Duncan Bridgeman (Giant Leap I and II) for the BMI Music in Film panel discussion with Doreen Ringer-Ross at noon on Saturday at the Kleinert James Arts Center on Tinker Street.  Though it’s standing room only at this point, opportunities arise only when you make an effort. Check it out.

— Deb Medenbach



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Welcome to blog coverage of Woodstock Film Festival’s Sweet 16!

The 2015 Woodstock Film Festival welcomes more than 120 films and their makers from around the world Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 to screen their creations in five communities: Woodstock, Kingston, Saugerties, Rosendale and Rhinebeck. WFF celebrates 16 years of supporting independent filmmaking on every level, from educating teens, cultivating new filmmakers, bridging the gap for filmmakers to funding sources and distributors with networking opportunities, screening works from around the world and celebrating fresh voices unfettered by narrow marketing constraints.

This year has a special emphasis on Women in Film, with a jump from 16 women filmmakers last year to 26 this year, making up fully half of the features that will be screened this year! Don’t miss the Women in Film panel “Enough Already” at 2 p.m. Oct. 3 at the Kleinert James Arts Center in Woodstock. Panelists include Rose McGowan, Anne Hubbell, Leah Meyerhoff and moderator Alexis Alexanian of Locomotive Productions.

The festival kicks off with a screening of The Poet of Havana, Ron Chapman’s documentary about renowned Cuban singer Carlos Varela, at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30 at Ulster Performing Arts Center, 601 Broadway, Kingston. Join director Ron Chapman, Carlos Varela and Jackson Browne for a post screening Q&A. The evening will continue with a performance featuring Varela, band members and American music icon Jackson Browne. Tickets are $60. Call 339-6088 or go to or

Stay tuned as the festival coverage ramps up next week to include aerialist Phillippe Petit, rock star Natalie Merchant, actress/producer Susan Sarandon, and a host of film luminaries embodying WFF’s motto: Fiercely Independent.

— Deb Medenbach

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2014 Woodstock Film Festival Audience Awards

It takes days to count the thousands of torn film ballots each year to determine which films win the audience awards. With the piles neatly collated with nary a hanging chad, here are the audience favorites for
this year’s festival:
Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature:
AMIRA & SAM, directed by Sean Mullin
Honorable Mention: THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD, directed by Peter Anthony

Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature:
LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, directed by Thomas G. Miller
Honorable Mention: HOW I GOT OVER, directed by Nicole Boxer

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2014 Woodstock Film Festival winners!

Director Darren Aronofsky with actresses Natalie Portman and Jennifer Connelly, who presented him with the 2014 WFF Maverick Award

Photo by Deborah Medenbach

It’s been a great privilege to witness the creative process of so many talented and accomplished independent filmmakers over the last five days. There are final screenings today in five Hudson Valley towns, but this is my final post for this year’s festival. An array of photos of the filmmaker’s reception and the WFF Awards Gala at Backstage Studio Productions in Kingston can be seen on my facebook page Deborah Medenbach-Writer. Those images are open for public viewing, so you don’t have to be fb friends with me in order to see them.

Meanwhile, what you’ve all be waiting for! The Awards!

— Deborah Medenbach

Best Narrative Feature: PATRICK’S DAY

Directed by Terry McMahonHonorable Mention: ARWAD, directed by Samer Najari and Dominique Chila

Best Documentary Feature: RED LINES

Directed by Andrea Kalin and Oliver LukacsHonorable Mention: MENTOR, directed by Alix Lambert

The Maverick Award for BEST FEATURE NARRATIVE was presented by jurors
Debra Granik, Logan Hill, and Melissa Leo to:
Patrick’s Day, directed by Terry McMahon

Honorable Mention was presented to Arwad, directed by Samer Najari and Dominique Chila

The Maverick Award for BEST FEATURE DOCUMENTARY was presented by jurors
Joe Berlinger, Amy Hobby and Barbara Kopple to:
Red Lines, directed by Andrea Kalin and Oliver Lukacs

Honorable Mention was presented to Mentor, directed by Alix Lambert
as well as A Snake Gives Birth to a Snake, directed by Michael Lessac

The Maverick Award for BEST ANIMATION was presented by jurors Signe Baumane and Patrick Smith to:
My Kingdom, directed by Debra Solomon

Honorable Mention was presented to “The Dam Keeper,” directed by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi

The Diane Seligman Award for BEST SHORT NARRATIVE was
presented by Jonathan Gray, Leah Meyerhoff and Lori Singer to:
Sunday, directed by Iva Gocheva

Honorable Mention was presented to Nighthawks, directed by Jun Bung Lee

The Diane Seligman Award for BEST STUDENT SHORT FILM was
presented by jurors Isil Bagdadi, Terry Kinney and Michael Cristofer to:
So You’ve Grown Attached, directed by Kate Tsang

Honorable Mention was presented to The Young Housefly, directed by Laurence Vannicelli

The Diane Seligman Award for BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY was
presented by jurors Leon Gast, Emily Rothschild and Todd Wider to:
Our Course (Nasza Klatwa), directed by Tomasz Sliwinski

The Haskell Wexler Award for BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY was presented to:
Patrick’s Day, directed by Terry McMahon and cinematography by Michael Lavelle

James Lyons Award for BEST EDITING of a FEATURE NARRATIVE was
presented by jurors Sabine Hoffman, Andrew Marcus and Richard Chew to:
Patrick’s Day, directed by Terry McMahon and edited by Emer Reynolds


presented by jurors Sandra Christie, Jean Tsien and Sabine Hoffman to:
Killswitch, directed by Ali Akbarzadeh and edited by Prichard Smith

ULTRA INDIE AWARD was presented by jurors Richard Abramowitz, Larry Fessenden and Amy Gossels to:
Uncertain Terms, directed by Nathan Silver

Honorable Mention was presented to I Believe in Unicorns, directed by Leah Meyerhoff

presented by juror Amy Hobby to:
Caryn Waechter, director of The Sisterhood of Night

FIERCELY INDEPENDENT AWARD was presented by Tom Quinn to:
Mark Duplass

HONORARY MAVERICK AWARD was presented by Jennifer Connelly and Natalie Portman to:
Darren Aronofsky

The Maverick Award trophies are handcrafted by local artisan Steve Heller of Fabulous Furniture in Boiceville, NY.


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Why Aronofsky is a Maverick

This year’s Woodstock Film Festival Maverick Award winner is Academy Award nominated director Darren Aronofsky, who will participate in a one-on-one panel today at 5 p.m. at the Kleinert James Arts Center before heading to the WFF Awards Gala tonight in Kingston.

Factors that figured into the selection of Aronofsky for this award go back to his earliest days in filmmaking as the director of “Pi” which won the 1998 Sundance director’s award. That success was followed in 2000 by “Requiem for a Dream” and more recently in 2008 by “The Wrestler” with Mickey Roarke which won the Venice Golden Lion award, only the third American film to do so. His most recent film, “Noah” starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, was a box office hit this spring.

Aronofsky draws out exceptional, edgy and challenging performances from his actors, garnering Academy Award nominations for both Mickey Roarke and Marissa Tomei in “The Wrestler” and for Ellen Burstyn in “Requiem for a Dream.” Natalie Portman won the Academy Award for Best Actress in Aronofsky’s film, “Black Swan.”

He will be presented the Maverick Award tonight by two of his award-winning leading ladies, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Connelly, at Backstage Studio Productions on Wall Street in Kingston.

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Antarctica here first

Photo by Deborah Medenbach

Filmmaker Jon Bowermaster is well known for his insightful global explorations into the environment, global warming and the health of the sea. When I first met him years ago in Stone Ridge, he was between stints for National Geographic and methodically exploring each continental coast by kayak. With the whole world as his point of interest, it’s a special honor that he has chosen to debut his latest film “Antarctica 3D: On the Edge” at the Woodstock Film Festival, incorporating Regal Cinemas in Kingston for the first time as a festival screening venue.

“This movie is headed to the museum market and this is the only time it will be shown locally,” Bowermaster said when I encountered him outside the festival office. “It might be a year or two before it’s shown at the Museum of Natural History. I’ve just finished it and I’m thrilled to show it here. It was narrated by Tilda Swinton and features new music by Natalie Merchant.”

The world premiere of Antarctica 3D: On the Edge screens at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Regal Cinema at the Hudson Valley Mall in Kingston. A Q&A with Bowermaster follows.

— Deborah Medenbach

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Ice Yachts, Catskill Mountains and 12-foot Rabbits

Photo by Deborah Medenbach

The Hudson Valley Short Documentaries are a breath of fresh air, sip of clean water and tribute to creative spirits that remind us of why living in this part of the state is about as good as it gets.

Opening with “Against the Wind” documentary by Tomasz Gubernats and Chris Nostrand, the film captures the historic weekend last winter where the Jack Frost matched blades with the Rocket for the first time in 122 years. The young filmmakers were unaware that the last time these ice yachts had competed was on Orange Lake for the Van Nostrand Cup, still held today by the North Shrewsbury Ice Yacht Club. The restored vessels met off Astor Point last winter for a period of unprecedented ice availability — 20 miles of 12″ thick ice on the Hudson River — allowing these, the largest ice yachts in the country so show what they were made of. Through interviews and artful camera use, the filmmakers captured the essence of what has drawn ice yacht skippers to the rivers and lakes since the 1860s.

“Catskill Park” by Nina Warren is a tribute to the pristine and beautiful Catskill Mountains. Through interviews with environmentalists, activists, celebrities and presidential descendants, Warren advocates for continued protection of the region.

“The Game Changer” documents Susan Slotnik’s modern dance program for incarcerated men at Woodbourne Correctional Facility, the only such program in North America. Slotnik, of New Paltz, has a lifetime of dance instruction behind her but finds a special satisfaction in seeing men express themselves through dance when no one expected the program to take root and succeed in a jail environment.

The 12-Foot Rabbits of Rokeby Farm by Samuel Crow and Rubi Rose is probably the most successful because of a weather failure. The film documents the construction of White Rabbit puppets and clocks for the 2012 New York Halloween Parade and the intricate choreography that went into this project, foiled by the cancellation of the parade by Superstorm Sandy. The only performance of “Tick Tock” was the dress rehearsal recorded by the filmmakers at Rokeby Farm two days before the storm hit.

Waning Wolf by Ian Todaro is an homage to the Wolf Conservation Center of South Salem.

The Hudson Valley Documentaries screen at 2:15 p.m. Sat. at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck.

–Deborah Medenbach


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