Kingston NY...The Woodstock Film Festival's Oct. 15 Maverick Awards Ceremony celebrated 17 years of film presentations, panels, concerts and events with a Hollywood-style party attended by industry movers and shakers including Academy Award® winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu who presented the Festival's Trailblazer award to David Linde, executive producer of Iñárritu's Oscar-winning film, Biutiful, and CEO of Participant Media.
Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Oren Moverman received this year's Fiercely Independent Award from presenter Ben Foster, who starred in Moverman's 2009 film The Messenger. The prolific writer, director and producer went on to direct Rampart, Time out of Mind and the upcoming film starring Richard Gere, The Dinner.
Documentary filmmaker and Woodstock local Leon Gast received the Lifetime Achievement Award from filmmaker/director Barbara Kopple. Gast's award-winning documentaries, including the Oscar-winning, When We Were Kings, about the Foreman/Ali "Rumble in the Jungle," span a wide array of subjects, including bikers, Dead Heads and papparazzi. His newest film, Woodstock: A Love Poem closed the four day festival Oct. 16.
South African film, Shepherds and Butchers, directed by Oliver Schmitz and starring Steve Coogan took home the award for Best Narrative Feature. The film, a prison/courtroom drama, is set against the apartheid divide of the late 1980s.
Matthew Millan's Stronger Than Bullets won the award for Best Documentary Feature. The film reveals the defiant and electric music scene Millan discovered when he arrived in Benghazi to document the revolution.
The festival, created by Israeli-born Meira Blaustein, is the best pretext in New York for getting out of the city to view the fall foliage and visit one of the most charming towns in America. There are an array of houses for weekend rental, some -- like the one I rented this year -- offer amazing views of the golden woods.
The festival annually presents films ranging from Hollywood fare to obscure international indie features. This year opened with Blind, starring Alec Baldwin, who was present for a Q & A after the film. The film was directed and written by Michael Mailer and John Buffalo Mailer, respectively, Norman Mailer's sons. Other high-profile films included Chilean director Pablo Larrain's Neruda, starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Cannes sensation Loving, about an interracial couple who married in the 1950s and who took their forbidden love all the way to the Supreme Court.
But the biggest discovery for me this year was a family of filmmakers who splits their time between upstate New York and Topanga Canyon outside Los Angeles, and whose low-budget feature, Halfway to Zen, was my festival favorite. The slice-of-life film about a down-on-their-luck and dysfunctional (though ultra-loving) family was produced and co-written by Toby Poser (who co-stars) and co-written and directed by her husband, John Adams (who shot the film, did the music and co-stars with their daughter, Zelda Adams). The gorgeously shot feature -- the family's fourth -- also stars Toby's mother and John's father (a Billy Bob Thornton look-alike.) Hopefully, the film will find wide distribution because it deserves to be seen by a large audience.