Free Film Festival at the Woodstock Museum in Saugerties

A still from Farewell to Factory Towns.

It was more than just another time. It was almost as if we were on another planet, living in a different world of ideas and possibilities. The counterculture of the 1960’s has been packaged and labeled by the mainstream in a form disheartening to many who lived through that enchanted stretch of time within the “movement.” The commercial music festival known as “Woodstock” which took place far from the town it was named for, became a misleading title for the “Woodstock Generation” which encompassed so much more than the music it celebrated. That was a central concept for Nathan Koenig and Shelli Lipton in their founding of the Woodstock Museum, a non-profit chartered by the NYS Board of Regents, which is presenting its 16th Annual free film festival over the Labor Day weekend, Friday, September 4 through Monday, September 7. Although the 1969 musical festival was a part of that era, the Museum hopes to emphasize that it was merely that; a part. The 35 films selected for the event largely reflect ideas, causes and concerns surviving or emerging from that cultural focus. There’s a delicate balance in honoring an event that has overshadowed almost to a point of erasure the search for a less restricted but just and workable society with values not necessarily represented by political leaders of the time. As independent filmmakers, themselves, an even higher priority for the festival is in the merit of the films’ “edu-tainment” qualities and their capacity to inform with entertainingly artistic flair.

“I’m a communicator,” observes Koenig, speaking from his studies of Native American traditions, adding that his life sometimes feels as if he is “fulfilling a prophecy” from a native prophet who saw that “the great-great grandchildren of the invaders would one day have to rebel against their own leaders because they knew that they were destroying the natural environment. They were treating the Earth as if they could use it up.” Conservation, however, is only one note in a symphony of widely ranging topics which begins with a live performance by Woodstock’s musical therapist, Paul McMahon, at 6 p.m. Friday, September 4 before a showing of Gary Null’s feature length documentary, Poverty, Inc. A Q&A session with Null, who is in Texas, depends on how quickly he can return to New York. Regardless, Gerald Celente of “Trends” magazine will be present to answer audience questions.

Other Friday highlights include A Private Matter and shorter features; an exclusive living room concert by Peter Yarrow and his daughter Bethany with her partner, Rufus; Bees and Trees; a comedy entitled Earning the Day and American Road with Q&A sessions on Saturday; a feature documentary on Yorkville (Toronto’s equivalent  of Greenwich Village and Haight-Ashbury in the ‘60’s); The War On Whistleblowers, concerning a more contemporary insult. Live Q&A periods for shorter features Two Landscapes, Freedom and Cannes award-winning animation, Carnival Surreal Sideshow with filmmakers present will be presented on Sunday, September 6. The festival wraps up starting at noon on Monday, with features Karmu, A Place In the Sun, and A Farewell To Factory Towns headlining the feature-length entries; and audience Q&A’s along with a live explanation of a new 3-D technique used in the animated 3-D short film, Dancing With Those Showtunez. Many other shorter features will be interspersed throughout the weekend.

Shelli Lipton, a painter who majored in Journalistic Illustration because she felt the events of the Age needed the force of visual impact, said that the theme of this year’s collection centers on Awareness. “Meeting Nathan was a breath of fresh air,” Lipton said, which helped extend her visual creativity into film. The timing of this  introduction is of importance. The countercultural notions and concerns of the era transcended many typically common views of the “Hippie” phase, having evolved from post WWII rebound recovery and a “Beatnik” gestation period bubbling in the 1950’s — the Civil Rights Movement and folk music boom as well as the trauma of the Kennedy and King assassinations; the explosion of televised media, rock & roll and so much more contributed to the youth-dominated tempo of the times. New social ideas and attitudes were proliferating, not least of which, although seldom credited, were from influential speculative fiction writers of the day like Chad Oliver, Mark Clifton, Robert Heinlein, Kurt Vonnegut and Woodstock’s own Theodore Sturgeon. “Some of the films are really fictional, done from someone’s conceptual thinking, firstly, and transformed to images by independent filmmakers in the 13 countries we chose from,” said Lipton. “We’re getting bigger every year.” Nathan and Shelli travel widely, collecting items “relative to Woodstock, the town, the festivals and the notion” for the museum. One of their own films, Hipstory, frequently greets visitors with scenes “from the first Rainbow Gathering to Nimbin, our Sister City in Australia, which has progressed in the ‘Sixties Consciousness’ way beyond anybody else I’ve seen on the planet,” Koenig comments. He points out that independent filmmaking has gotten quite sophisticated and involved, often embracing subjects overlooked in the mainstream, “hopefully sparking people into more awareness and involvement in the unfolding history we’re going through. How are we going to stop unbridled corporatism? By being aware of what’s going on in our own backyard. We need media for this but if it’s controlled by government or corporate interests, we’ve got a problem.”

Anumber of food cusines will be available, including organic, Lipton notes, but they will not have bottled water. Although the festival is free, donations are gratefully accepted, including in the cafe. The films will be running in two theaters simultaneously, Lipton said, and people are free to move about and mingle. More than just a showing of almost three dozen films, she said, reviving another 60’s term, it will be a big, free “Happening.”



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