Friday, October 19, 2007


What do you do up there in the country? I just love that question. “Nothing,” I usually answer, because, really, how can I explain that my life goes in warp speed, even if the woods are right outside my door?

So, what have I been doing up there in the country? Well, took a few weeks off from the insanity and excitement of the launch of my memoir, Hats & Eyeglasses: A Family Love Affair with Gambling, so I could concentrate on the Woodstock Film Festival. I’ve been involved with this film fest since its inception in 2000, and am one of the Advisory Board members. I never know what an Advisory member is supposed to do, so I pre-screen dozens of films, and then introduce the ones I have an affinity to or talk up the ones I can’t get to introduce. This year they included the amazing documentaries Surfwise, Black, White and Grey, Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, and Steal a Pencil for Me; the narrative features Liberty Kid, Dark Matter, and 3 Americas; a myriad of funny shorts including Hunt Me, The Election, and Who You Know, plus the world premiere of the short Night of the Living Jews. NLJ, written and directed by nineteen-year-old Oliver Noble, was produced by my best friend, Valerie Fanarjian (now the activities director at Simon’s Rock College), who swears that she is done with the movie business, but I don’t believe her. She met this great band of young kids about two years ago, and they wheedled and cajoled and generally drove her nuts until she helped them make their movie, but they’re relentless. Coppola probably asked less favors when he made The Godfather. But the premiere was hysterical--- a Hasidic- looking zombie walked around the theater with blood dripping, there was a pig on a leash, don’t ask. Afterward, Heeb Magazine hosted a terrific party (which everyone started referring to as “the Jew party”), where bacon cheeseburgers were served till three in the morning.

The best part, for me, is stumbling into the hospitality suite in the morning and having a cup of coffee with the filmmakers. This year they included one of my heroes, Ron Mann, (who directed the documentaries Go Further, Grass, and Tales of the Rat Fink), and Jonathan Paskowitz, who co-produced the imaginative and glorious documentary about his wacky family, Surfwise.

Woodstock is full of its own amazing people, including music promoter Michael Lang, filmmaker and actor Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter, The Brave One), screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia, The Painted Veil), director Leon Gast (who won the Academy Award for When We Were Kings), so there’s always someone really interesting to wake up with. Not that way--- I was thinking more breakfast than sex.
Because this is Woodstock, there are way too many parties. I often think that the tagline of the festival, FIERCELY INDEPENDENT, should be changed to ENTIRELY TOO MUCH FUN. But I ran into lots of my old friends during the weekend, including casting director Ellen Chenoweth, actors Aidan Quinn and Lili Taylor, and my college roommate, Donna Giddins, who pops up in my life from time to time.

On the last day of the festival I host the Actor’s Dialog, an intimate talk between myself and some of the actors who are in Woodstock for the festival. Aidan has been on this panel, and so has Lili, as well as Stanley Tucci, Steve Buscemi, Olympia Dukakis, Marcia Gaye Hardin, David Strathairn, Liev Schreiber. This year Patricia Clarkson (Station Agent, Pieces of April) was supposed to be my only guest, and I imagined it as a sort of quiet, sweet chat between film lovers. I had watched probably twenty or so of her films, all of Six Feet Under, and felt well versed in her work. I got to meet her on Friday and spent some time with her. Surprisingly, she was more nervous than I was--- she kept asking me if I was worried that an hour and a half was too long. But I assured her that if all else failed, I could open the questions up to the audience, who are rabid fans and probably knew more about her than I did. Immediately I knew I had said the wrong thing--- she sort of cringed, as if I had said, Wait, this whole town is full of stalkers. You’ll love it.

Then, the next day, we got a call that Steve Guttenberg was going to be in the area, and that he really wanted to do the panel. I jumped on the opportunity--- I interviewed Guttenberg maybe ten years ago for Movieline Magazine, and it still ranks as one of the funniest interviews I ever did. But I’ll admit that I was a bit worried that the chemistry might not be good between my two actors, or that their experiences in the film world were so different that they wouldn’t have any common ground.

I needn’t have worried. Clarkson was witty and full of great stories, and Guttenberg was so self-effacing and hysterical that the hour and a half sped by.

Here’s a great blog about the event.

Woodstock Film Festival

Night of the Living Jews


Jenn said...

Hi Martha,

Congrats on starting a blog -- I'll be reading it! You've managed to mention a lot of my favorite film people in your first entry. In fact, David Strathairn left a comment on my MySpace page recently and I walked on air for a couple of days -- I've been a huge fan since Secaucus Seven.


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