Volunteer, See the World On Screen

 

By Tevita Toutaiolepo

A student film crew stands outside Tinker Street Theater for a screening at Woodstock Film Festival’s 10th anniversary celebration, waiting for actress Vera Farmiga to exit and give a short interview about her new movie, “Up in the Air.”  Trying to get a few questions in before being brushed aside by reporters and fans, these student volunteers would spend the next eight hours in an editing room, hoping to get worthy footage posted on the festival’s official YouTube site by morning.

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 this scene was repeated while a group of SUNY New Paltz students worked in various capacities for the festival. It has grown from a small event to an internationally acclaimed festival that’s now a must-attend for the independent film industry.

According to Lisa Meyer, Woodstock Film Festival’s personnel and volunteer coordinator, student volunteers have been a big part of the festival since year one, helping the press office, box office, public relations office, venues, stage crew, audio crew and traffic director.

“We are not-for-profit, so the volunteers are really the backbone of our events,” Meyers said.

One volunteer, Dan Barry, a fourth-year student majoring in media production, pitched in where ever he was needed, which included working sound, recording events, setting up shots and organizing student volunteers.

“Seeing what my future might be like if I go into independent filmmaking was amazing,” Barry said. “Trying to be a fly on the wall while getting good shots—I got the feeling of wow, I get to be a part of this!”

Another volunteer, Angela Newland, a fourth-year media management major at New Paltz, worked in the public relations office. Starting a month beforehand, Newland created press kits, wrote press releases and pre-screened movies.

“We got to take the films home so we were informed about the movies to compliment filmmakers,” Newland said.

Newland blogged throughout the festival on the Woodstock Film Festival’s official Web site so followers could get an inside view of events. Meeting actors Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster, along with writer/director Kyle Alvarez, Newland had plenty to write about.

“Alvarez said he was told if they were going to go to any independent festival with their movie, they should go to Woodstock,” Newland said.

With panels, screenings, and interviews often overlapping, timing and organization got hectic for the volunteers, especially for student film crews.

“It was a little like juggling,” Gregg Bray said, a media production professor at SUNY New Paltz who coordinated the production volunteers. “Students got a really good exercise in exhaustion and sleep deprivation as a rite of passage.” Nevertheless, Bray said his students performed well.

“I had a pair of students shoot Wednesday, cut Wednesday night, shoot Thursday, cut Thursday night. I finally had to tell them to go home and get some sleep,” he said.

Adam Schwartz, another fourth-year media production major, worked the overnight editing shifts and attested to the long hours.

“Although it’s crazy for a couple of days, the final product is well worth it,” Schwartz said.

Despite all the hard work, the festival allotted students the time to network and meet people.

“These are people who are professional and independent filmmakers and actors who have either made it or are on their way,” said Cat Tosiello, a fourth-year media production major who also had the chance to interview Alvarez. “They are what I aspire to be, so it was definitely a learning experience.”

With actresses Lucy Liu and Uma Thurman sitting on panels, veteran producer Ted Hope speaking, and two time Academy Award winning director Barbara Kopple accepting the festival’s prestigious Maverick Award, it was a chance that couldn’t be missed for those looking to break into the business.

“It was wonderful to see all of the dialogue take place,” Bray said. “It really was a full learning experience for the students, they really got to have a bit of mentoring while they were there. I thought that was important.”

Bray recognizes the value in working the festival. He’s been doing it for three years, and sees it as a tremendous resume and portfolio builder.

“Ultimately what all of this means for [the students] is this on their resumes, this on their reels and professional credentials for when employers go to hire them,” Bray said.

Bray said he hopes to build a lasting relationship between the film festival and the college.

“They seem pretty happy with what we’ve done, and when you have something like this in your backyard it’s just amazing to be able to have a presence in it,” Bray said.

***

Woodstock Film Festival on Youtube.

Richard Linklater speaks about independent films, here.

Marcy Velte

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