Guest Post by Meira Blaustein
When I co-founded the Woodstock Film Festival 18 years ago I had no sense of how hard the work would be, and how immense the positive influence on so many people, near and far, it would have. When you are deep in the process of developing something that requires you to give your all, you can’t always see what’s happening outside of your immediate vision.
Eighteen years after the festival first began as a fiercely independent, artistically driven event, I can look around and see the thousands of lives that it has affected and helped: young high school students and college interns who were inspired by the festival and have gone on to successful careers in film and media, such as Amanda Warman Naseem, who started out as an assistant at the festival and today is one of the top producers at Vice; emerging filmmakers who have developed into accomplished artists in their fields, such as Leah Meyerhoff, who screened her short film “Twitch” at the festival back in 2005, and today is a feature film director who also heads the internationally known grassroots women filmmakers organization Film Fatales; community members who have discovered new passion for the power of the arts such as Jen Dragon, who was a volunteer at the festival and now runs a highly successful art gallery.
Seeing countless stories like this makes the hard work and dedication worthwhile. I suppose it’s like giving birth each year — a long and hard pregnancy period ending with a beautiful baby that gives you the courage and the energy to do it all over again.
As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, I recognize that there is much work left to do. Each year as I program the fest’s film lineup, put together the panels, and select the special honorees, I find myself looking for a gender balance that is not always easy to achieve. As such I’m proud that we have developed an official Spotlight on Women in Film and Media whereby we highlight annually the works by some of the year’s most talented and courageous women filmmakers.
This year we are showing 54 feature films, and 19 are directed by women, which puts us at a higher percentage than most festivals. Moreover, we have made a conscious effort in our programming to pay attention to issues affecting women, as well as films featuring outstanding female actors. Among the female-directed films showing this year are first-time director Lillian Lasalle’s “My Name is Pedro,” filled with engrossing twists and inspirational lessons, Hope Litoff’s “32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide,” which explores the life and death of her artist sister, and Catherine Eaton’s “The Sounding,” a narrative of a woman’s struggle to maintain her independence and find her own unique voice, also written and acted by Eaton.
The 2017 Spotlight on Women in Film and Media includes titles such as “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” “La Chana,” and “This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous.”
This year’s honorary Maverick Award, given for her outstanding artistry in acting and her long-standing commitment to the support of issue-driven films as a producer, will be presented to Susan Sarandon. In the past we have honored documentarian Barbara Kopple, producer Christine Vachon, director Mira Nair, and actor Ellen Barkin. In talks and events we have featured Vera Farmiga, Melissa Leo, Lucy Liu, Kyra Sedgwick, Patricia Clarkson, Parker Posey, Uma Thurman, Catherine Hardwicke, Debra Granik, Susan Seidelman, Katherine Dieckmann, Rebecca Miller, and countless others.
So while it is still a challenge to create gender balance, I’m glad that we can do our small part in tipping the scale towards equality. The more that festivals like ours offer opportunities to showcase and celebrate the outstanding works by women filmmakers, the higher the chances that those keepers of the gate in the financing and distribution universe will open their purse and greenlight female-directed projects.
The 18th annual Woodstock Film Festival runs from October 11–15. To download a pre-fest program of this year’s event click here.
Meira Blaustein is an arts entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience developing film organizations, entertainment, arts, and media events in the U.S. and globally. Blaustein is the Co-founder, Executive Director, and Head Programmer of the Woodstock Film Festival (Wff). Wff was launched in 2000 and has become one of the most respected and influential regional film festivals in the USA. Blaustein has been running it ever since its inception. As an international consultant Blaustein also co-founded and developed the Cabo International Film Festival in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The festival developed into what is now the Baja International Film Festival. A filmmaker by training, Blaustein directed, produced, and consulted on numerous feature films in various stages, from development to marketing.
Guest Post: What It’s Like to Be a Fiercely Independent Woman Film Fest Director in the Trenches was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.