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Film Tells Story Behind Story of Woodstock

September 4, 2010
REEL TALK

The Woodstock music festival is remembered for peace, love, drugs, hippies, some of the biggest names in rock ’n’ roll history and Jimi Hendrix’s legendary rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to close the historic three-day event.

But something often overlooked in the Woodstock story is how the 1969 festival ended up in the hamlet of White Lake in Bethel, New York, and how it forever altered the people of the small dairy town. 

That little-known story is recounted in the film “Taking Woodstock,” which was released in the United States in 2009 and has now made its way to Costa Rica, opening in theaters today. Starring comedian and former “The Daily Show” correspondent Demetri Martin and directed by the Oscar-winning Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”), the film recounts the arrival of Woodstock in White Lake from the perspective of the slow, aging hamlet’s residents.

Elliot Teichberg, played by Martin, is the son of a Jewish couple that owns a failing hotel in White Lake. Teichberg is president of the town’s chamber of commerce and shoulders the burden of finding a solution for the townspeople’s financial woes. Looking for a means to accomplish a seemingly impossible task, Teichberg reads that the permit for the peace-and-love music festival with a lineup of legendary bands has been revoked by the neighboring town of Wallkill. Teichberg makes some calls, brings the concert organizers to White Lake and works out an agreement with local dairy farmer Max Yasgur (played by Eugene Levy) to lease his land for the festival.

From there, the planning of one of rock ’n’ roll’s most defining concerts takes the focus, as the once sleepy town is revitalized by the arrival of organizers, stage builders and thousands upon thousands of peace- and drug-loving hippies hoping to take part in the epic event.

Though the revelry of the festival is the engine of the film, the story is found in the transformation of the Teichberg family as the surge of guests brings them something they haven’t had in years: money. Throughout the chaos of planning for the festival, the family has to find a way to redefine itself around its newfound success.

The story makes for a clever, interesting though sometimes distracted tale about the reinventing of a family and a small town, in the midst of a concert that helped define a generation.

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