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Q&A with Director Bruce Beresfordby Sari Botton

The buzz began in June, when flyers appeared at various posts around Woodstock and Rosendale, recruiting extras for a film shoot. Many locals—Julie Novak, Eva Tenuto, Carla Rozman, Patty Curry, to name a few—jumped at the opportunity. Others of us merely gawked as “downtown” Rosendale was transformed into a movie set. If you attended the Rosendale Street Festival or hung around the town’s Main Street in late July, chances are you caught glimpses of the shoot in progress.

This was no student film or B-movie. No, we’re talking Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chace Crawford and Elizabeth Olson—all starring in Peace, Love and Misunderstanding, the latest film to be shot by a director as celebrated as its stars. That would be Aussie auteur Bruce Beresford, best known for modern classics like Tender Mercies and Driving Miss Daisy.

Beresford shot the film in Woodstock and Rosendale in a head-spinning 28 days. But he won’t be jetting back to his native Sydney any time soon. Post-production at producer Claude Dal Farra’s Vinci Farms editing facility in Kerhonkson will keep the 70-year-old director in the area for a while longer.

That works out well, considering that Beresford is going to be honored during the 11th Woodstock Film Festival. On Saturday October 2, Beresford—a two-time Academy Award nominee for his writing of the screenplay for Breaker Morant, and his direction of Tender Mercies—will receive the 2010 Honorary Maverick Award during a gala ceremony at BackStage Productions in Kingston.

According to Meira Blaustein, the festival’s co-founder and executive director, Beresford is receiving the honor because, “Throughout his extensive body of work, Beresford has exhibited unique talent, drawing award-winning performances from his actors while subtly creating stories filled with humanity, nuances and discontent. His ability to masterfully bring heart, soul, and social critique to all of his work distinguishes him as a true maverick.”

Beresford, who has made 27 films in about forty years, spoke with me by phone from the home he’s renting in Accord about the movie, the award, and the area he’s been happy to call home for the past few months.

How does it feel to be receiving this award from the Woodstock Film Festival?

I guess I’m surprised. I’m sort of fascinated. And honored!

How did you come to film Peace, Love and Misunderstanding here?

This is a totally local film. The producer, Claude Dal Farra, is here. We’re doing post-production here, at his facility. The screenwriters, Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski, live in Kerhonkson. She was teaching at Vassar and quit to write screenplays. They set the story in the Woodstock area.

What is it about?

It’s about a woman, ( Catherine Keener), who is a New York lawyer. When her marriage breaks up, she decides to go visit her mother in Woodstock. They haven’t seen each other in many years, because they don’t get on very well, and her mother is still living in the past, in the hippie era. When she gets up to her mother’s house, she is still irritated by her, but her teenage kids get on with her much better. Then she meets a local guy who is a furniture maker whom she’s attracted to, and finds an excuse to stay longer, really just so she can see this guy. But then she finds out that the guy was her mother’s lover, which she’s not very happy about. Meanwhile, her daughter, who is about 18, meets a young man who is a butcher, and her son meets a young girl, and they’re having their first teenage love. So you have those three romances going on. The mother also has a boyfriend who’s in the house, a super-hippie, and Catherine Keener’s character isn’t too happy with him.

This all happens over one weekend?

No, it all happens over about three weeks. She goes back to Manhattan after she finds out that the chap she met was her mother’s lover.

Oh…what happens then?

I’m not going to tell you! (Laughs.)

How did you come across this particular screenplay?

I’d come over from Australia to meet on another film, and that one got delayed. My agent said, “Before you go back home, there’s another screenplay I’d love for you to give a quick read.” And it was really quite good! At first they said they didn’t want to do it straight away, then called back and said, no, let’s do it immediately. So then I came to New York and here we are.

What makes Peace, Love and Misunderstanding a Bruce Beresford film?

I don’t know. I suppose because it’s a character-driven movie. And there’s a lot of wit. It’s really about three generations of women and their various love affairs. It’s a grandmother, mother and daughter. It’s very nicely written, with a lot of heart.

I’ve heard that you shot this in only 28 days. How has that been?

That’s right. That’s not how I like to work, but it’s an independent film, and the budget is pretty low. But I’m used to working like this, with low budgets. We did Driving Miss Daisy in 30 days. If you’re making independent films without big studio backing, you shoot them very quickly.

How many movies do you shoot in a year?

Oh, not even one. From the time you read the screenplay and start raising money, to when you’re finished with the editing and everything, it takes 15 to 18 months. I also do operas. After this, I’m going back to Australia to direct an opera.

It seems you used a lot of locals in the film.

The locals are all great! Everyone is friendly and helpful. Different people let us borrow this and that. We brought up the major cast from New York and LA, but we’ve put some local people in small roles, too. A local actor, Terry McKenna, plays Jane Fonda’s boyfriend. There’s a film festival in the movie, and local actor Michael Burke is in that role. Part of the story is that Jane Fonda’s character is a painter. And Judy Zeichner has come along and given Jane lessons in painting. In fact, she’s donated paintings for us to use, and also created some specifically for what we were shooting. She’s been great. Brinton Baker, who is a potter in Accord, has done the same thing. The extras were all locals. We shot a demonstration scene in Woodstock, and we got this terrific local drumming group led by Fre Atlast . Actually, Fre has been in a couple of scenes. She’s great.

You also shot some of the movie in Rosendale.

We shot at the Rosendale Street Festival. It was perfect for us because there was a music festival written in the script, and to set one up just for the movie would cost far more than the budget we had. I said, “Are there any music festivals already going on?” And there was the one in Rosendale. We also shot at the Rosendale Café. It’s one of the final scenes in the film. The guy who runs it, Mark Morganstern, was tremendously helpful. Everyone here was helpful. I love Rosendale!

Had you been to visit this area before this movie?

I had been to New York City before, but never to this area, and now I love it. It’s gorgeous here. I’ve been to that little movie theater in Rosendale, and it’s great. The ones in Woodstock and Rhinebeck, too (Upstate Films). I have a country house in a town outside of Sydney, and they have one of those little old movie theaters, too. I’m enjoying staying in Accord. It’s perfect because I’m central to everything—Woodstock, Rosendale, Kerhonkson—so I never have to drive very far. I’ve been enjoying this area a lot. I’ve been kayaking on the river. We went to the FDR house. And we went to the Opera at Tanglewood. The restaurants are great, too. My favorite is the Inn at Stone Ridge. My wife and I have been there three or four times. I also love the Mexican restaurant, Gaby’s Cafe in Ellenville. They make the guacamole right at the table.

Will you go to see some of the movies in the Woodstock Film Festival?

Oh, yes. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve got. Sure I will…if I can get away from the editing, that is.

Bruce Beresford will receive the Maverick Award at the Woodstock Film Festival Award Ceremony, Saturday October 2 at BackStage Productions, 323 Wall St., Kingston, 7:30 PM. Please see www.woodstockfilmfestival.com for ticket information.



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