I squeeze into a narrow, packed bar. Twisting and weaving through the tangled human knot, I pass a line of muffled orange lights running under and behind a long bar. There are dim red lights high above. On the far wall a large wall poster proclaims "Woodstock Film Festival." This is the launch party of the Woodstock Film Festival, held in the Catskill Mountains but launch partied on Manhattan's Lower East Side, at Libation Bar. Reaching the the end of the jammed room, I climb a tight staircase to the mezzanine.
Sitting in a booth wearing a short, shinny blue dress, shapely legs crossed, face glowing natural beauty, eyes, well, sort of uneven and crooked -- and electrifying! "Move closer, so we can hear each other," she says in a soft voice laced with grit. I quickly slide over, but not too close. Having recently returned from five long months in Afghanistan, where women don't appear to exist -- well, it's just best not to get too close.
Lucy Liu, know from her roles in the films Charlie's Angles as the crime-fighting, and beautiful Alex Munday; in Kill Bill as the villainous, yet beautiful O-Ren Ishii; in the television series Alley McBeal as a vicious, beautiful, little animal, Ling Woo. Yet, what brought us together closely in this booth is not beautiful. The documentary Redlight, which she narrates and produced, with her hand in much of the project, is about the sexual exploitation of children. The film focuses on several young Cambodian victims and two women working to save their lives. It is heart-wrenching!
"People think slavery is something in the past. We have to make them understand it is happening today. I want audiences to be as horrified and outraged as I was," her hand lightly touches my shoulder for emphasis. It works! "First, they need to know this problem exists. Second, it is something we can change. Awareness -- education is a key -- then enforcing the laws that exist."
A graduate of New York's highly competitive Stuyvesant High School, a graduate of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, a United Nation's Ambassador for UNICEF, Lucy Liu is no Hollywood bubble-head. She understands the causes are many and complex including abject poverty and psychological trauma and devaluation of females in societies. "Yes, it's going to take a long time," she says quietly. "But we have to begin now!"
Wiggling and twisting myself to the bar, music thumping and voices roaring, I meet ruffled white hair, fiery blue eyed Richard Kroehling: "Science fiction has caught up with reality ... technology is catching up with prophesy ... change is transforming everything," he rattles off. "Come see my film, 2B."
"I will," shouting back as I work the maze to the other side of the room.
"There are a number of things that set the Woodstock Film Festival apart from other festivals," says Meira Blaustein, director and co-founder of the festival. "It has the unique combination of showcasing some of the best contemporary independent film every year with a very high number of the most interesting and important industry members and filmmakers in attendance. And this happens in Woodstock, an intimate, friendly and casual environment with a long history of artistic appreciation."
With dark bangs and large eyes and attractive face, Meira kinda resembles, in a way, Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. But Meira lacks that severely whacked-on-drugs look. That's good when you're the director of a major film festival.
"Another ingredient that sets this festival apart is our sidebars. One is called 'Exposure,' films that deal with political, environmental and social issues. 'Focus on Music' -- that's really unique -- adds another dimension that sets the Woodstock Film Festival apart."
The kick-off film is, appropriately, Woodstock: Now and Then, directed and produced by Barbara Kopple. An opening night highlight is The Messenger, directed by Oren Moveman and featuring Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster. There will be the world premiere of Redlight, the documentary narrated and produced by Lucy Liu. There will be films on the Doors and Neil Young and 150 films, shorts, animations and panels that range from women in film to music in film to the changing face of independent film making to how exponential technological change is reshaping our future. And there will be concerts and other events in Woodstock and several neighboring towns. On closing night will be Up in the Air, a film starring George Clooney and Vera Farmiga.
"Woodstock the town plays a key role," Meira Blaustein says after returning with a refill. "It's close to metropolitan New York, a mecca of independent films. It has bucolic beauty, the feeling of a getaway, the foliage, art galleries, some people even go hiking. This is a unique and beautiful film festival, there are very few of them."
Being the 10th anniversary of the Woodstock Film Festival, I ask how it has changed.
"In many ways, but the heart has stayed the same: love of film making and love of filmmakers. The festival has certainly grown in statue, now its considered a very important festival on the circuit. But the size cannot explode because we are in small venues and small towns. Nor is it our interest to become a gigantic film festival. We want to become a great film festival, that has great films with great participants. We want people to be inspired, feel empowered. A festival where careers are launched, careers are developed, where everyone learns something and benefits."
Weaving through the crowd, I bump into two animators, twins Joy and Noelle. It's not the first time I see double at a party. Demonstrating my full knowledge on the subject, I ask, "Are all animations funny food for kiddies' brains?" Noelle flashes me a gentle mother's look of genuine piety. Joy suggests nicely that I might want to check out some animations at Woodstock. After noting her advice, I weave and twist toward the rear ... pull myself up the narrow stairs ... slip into a booth with actor Ben Foster.
"Reading the script," he says slowly, "I was taken by how simple, how spare it was." Ben's eyes are sharp, his stare steady, and his arm tattoos are real. He's intense and intelligent. With Woody Harrelson, in The Messenger they form a "Causality Notification Team" that informs the next to kin that their loved ones died in the Iraq War. There are many films about the horrors of war, and many about the grieving at home, but this is the first about the exact moment when the horror is delivered to the instantly traumatized loved ones at home. It is a powerful, moving film. Like Redlight, like all great independent films, this is a film for thinking, feeling adults.
"It's not overly political, Ben says. "What I want are people to connect with and have empathy for our soldiers, regardless of their political perspective."
More on Ben Foster from the festival -- I'm downstairs leaning on the bar, which has become dislodged from its Libation moorings, and is floating along the 100 mile route between Manhattan's Lower East Side and heading to the small Catskill Mountain village of Woodstock. Bars always move minds faster than bodies. Hope to see your body at Woodstock!
For more information on the Woodstock Film Festival, which runs from September 30 to October 4, go to http://www.woodstockfilmfestival.com/. For ticket information go to http://www.woodstockfilmfestival.com/ticketinfo.htm
To Read Stewart's 1st Blog on the Woodstock Film Festival to to: http://blogger.huffingtonpost.com/mt.cgi?__mode=view&_type=entry&id=299234&blog_id=3
Stewart will be blogging from the Woodstock Film Festival. You can email him at SNusbaumer@gmail.com And if you have an extra ticket for When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors, please email him.