- Woodstock Revisited Film Festival
- August 16-18
Friday, August 16th (Day One)
4:22pm: The day is Friday, August 15th, 1969. 5000 young members of the counterculture movement descend upon Max Yasgur’s farm for 3 days of peace, love and music called Woodstock. Today is Friday, August 16th, 2019. Somewhere between 300 and 500 people who love movies and music too much, including myself, will descend upon Ted Roger’s Hot Docs Cinema for three days worth of movies covering the artists and attendees that participated in the previously mentioned 1969 event.
Join me as I log each and every excruciatingly redundant detail of my attendance of the Woodstock Revisited Film Festival at Toronto’s Hot Docs theatre, beginning with boarding the bus which will take us to the subway line which will eventually take me to the magic land of documentary. Rejoice!
6:08pm: I’m seated for the first film and I’m the only person here that’s not a boomer. I’ve been receiving the stares.
8:17pm: The first film of the festival, Barbara Kopple’s My Generation, has just concluded. This was my second time seeing the film, and it is still fantastic. This one did the fall festival circuit all the way back in 2000, but never could receive a proper release as the rights to the songs used were never properly acquired. It’s unfortunate, because this comparison piece of the 3 Woodstock festivals is masterfully edited, fascinating in its thesis and really funny! All the musical performances are also great, and it’s a concert film as much as it is a documentary. If this film had its chance to shine, it would probably remain one of the essential Woodstock films today. If you ever get a chance to see a repertory screening of this one, which happen to be incredibly rare, seek it out!
8:30pm: I just noticed the staff are wearing tye-dye, which is a cool detail they’ve tagged onto the fest. They also have 2 themed drinks, one of which sticks out in particular. It takes its name after the notorious “brown acid” from the 1969 fest that people were told not to take due to its high potency, which became an in joke for those attending the show in Bethel Woods.
8:53pm: Overheard in the crowd: “I’m glad that the youngsters are here!” I’m glad I make you glad!
10:10pm: This screening of Alice’s Restaurant has come to a screeching halt because the DVD is messed up. To be honest, the film is dragging so I’m glad to get a breather.
11:30pm: Alice’s Restaurant was alright, but it’s probably going to be the least I enjoy a film this weekend. A narrative film that’s an extension of Arlo Guthrie’s song of the same name, it takes the artist that makes the song as funny as it as way too long and uninteresting. When we reach the parts focused on the song as well as the more quippy situational humor, it works but everything else is quite a slog. There’s was still enough to keep me partially invested, this would have been better suited as a short. It would’ve been much snappier that way. Let’s see if tomorrow’s films can offer improvement.
Saturday, August 17th (Day Two)
12:18pm: It was nice to sleep in this morning, but now it’s time for movies! (My life motto) Today, I’ll be treated to 2.25 films in the series – which is a story for later in the day. And here we go!
2:14pm: The boomers have showed up in waves for the biggest crowd yet, which remains mostly boomers except for about 3 other people in their twenties. The environment is starting to shape up, as attendees wear flower crowns and bandannas to fit the Woodstock sensibility. In 15 minutes, the brand new documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name (released just 3 weeks ago in Toronto) will screen. I’ll report back after the screening since I gotta get myself some popcorn!
6:39pm: There wasn’t much downtime between the films this afternoon, but I’ve got some thoughts! They aren’t the most concrete as the 2 films were both quite simple at their core, but there is still plenty to say nonetheless. David Crosby: Remember My Name was quite great. It doesn’t necessarily live up to its Sundance hype, proclaiming that it’s absolutely devastating, but it’s pretty great either way. The emotions hit decently hard, but I wish it could’ve hit slightly harder. Additionally, there isn’t much cinematic merit to Crosby’s study, although it is very captivating nonetheless. It’s great; but nowhere near perfect – glad I saw it either way.
Regarding Jimi Hendrix: Live at Woodstock, that’s a film that was the closest to perfection of the last two. Besides some unnecessary interviews that bookend the performance, this is a masterclass in concert filmmaking. The music is great, the editing is stunningly creative, and the balance between focus on the audience as well as the band is quite a marvel. There isn’t much to say, because this really doesn’t do much wrong – and it’s so commendable. If you love Jimi/want to get into his music or love classic rock in general, this is one that absolutely deserves your time.
Unfortunately, I won’t be the final scheduled film of the day, Long Strange Trip, due to a time constraint, I will be sure to update you with my thoughts as soon as I get to it, hopefully within the week. For now, I’ve got a repertory screening of Noel Marshall’s Roar at the Lightbox to attend – but I’ll be back tomorrow with my thoughts on the final three films during the last day of the Woodstock Revisited Film Festival!
Sunday, August 18th (Day Three)
12:47pm: While grabbing myself a grilled cheese sandwich at Starbucks to hold me over for the screening of Janis: Little Girl Blue, I met a lovely older man (who I didn’t catch the name of) who was telling me about how seeing these movies helped him in getting over the death of his father, which really is beautiful to hear. Although I don’t know much about Janis Joplin, hearing that she has such an impact really makes me more excited.
3:17pm: I’m disappointed after Janis: Little Girl Blue. The film was alright, traditional PBS fare, featuring a surplus of information, although very few interesting or creative ways to share it. Just wish there was a little more creativity in the way this formulaic biography was presented. Unfortunately, I feel like I’m still not aware of Joplin’s impact after the screening, which doesn’t feel right. I’m also disappointed because my secret seat positioned right next to the power outlet, which I’ve been using for every screening. Let’s hope I can preserve my battery to continue writing these logs. The next two screenings will surely make up for it, 2 rockumentary classics.
3:30pm: With mere seconds until the lights go down, The Last Waltz has pulled in the largest audience of the weekend thus far by a decent margin.
5:44pm: I spoke too soon, because this line for the closing night film, the original Woodstock documentary, is curving around the block. This is the first time this has happened this weekend. Expecting a sold out screening, proportionate to the crowd of the festival itself.
10:11pm: Well, to start off, I was so shaken by The Last Waltz that I forgot to write about it after – a true masterpiece. Scorsese knows how to film live music better than anyone – and the theatrical experience here is unparalleled. As someone who isn’t a fan of the band, I’ve become a convert – and it’s magical that cinema can do that. I’m quite speechless.
In terms of Woodstock, I feel quite similar – a masterpiece that has me practically speechless. A 225 minute odyssey that covers all 3 days of Woodstock in a way that’s purely observational, this is one of the most immersive theatre experiences I’ve ever had. There’s really no other way to put it than the closest thing to being there, and as exactly that, it’s damn perfect. One too seek out in a theater for sure.
Thank you, Hot Docs, for bringing us back to one of the most historic weekends to the big screen in an event that brought together some of the greatest films and artists ever!