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An Interview with Nancy Cohen, Director of Woodstock: A Snapshot in Time

by Mike Haberfelner

August 2022

Films directed by Nancy Cohen on (re)Search my Trash

 

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You filmed most (maybe all) of the footage for Woodstock: A Snapshot in Time back in 1994 - so what prompted you to piece it together into a documentary only now?

 

I had been working on the idea of a longer film on consciousness change with my then partner Andy. We had difficulty tying all the ideas together at the time and so the film sat for a bit... I remet Charles Lane at a museum; we hadn't seen each other in years and we started working together... and  considered making a triptych, using separate stories of footage that was already shot... adding new material... we were working on the Lennon film and it was close to the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, so I thought best to do that story while the moment was there... of course, Covid happened, etc etc.

 

What inspired you to make a documentary about Woodstock '94 in the first place?

 

I met Andy when he was working as a producer on a film about the alumni of Woodstock for British TV. He interviewed me from London by phone and then we met in person and it became fairly clear quickly that he was hot to go to the festival as a participant, and as I was the one who had witnessed the first one, naturally we would go together. We were both artists and had made films.

 

How would you rate Woodstock '94 as compared to the original Woodstock from 1969? The less said about Woodstock '99 the better, but what do you think Woodstock today would look like, and would it have any cultural significance?

 

It wasn't so fun for me; I was younger at the original and well, it was fantastic... a dream. The one we showed up to in 1994 was small on the original site and had none of the authentic, sexual drive and energy of the first... I don't mean that people were having sex, but everyone was young and gorgeous and there was a sense of wonderment... it couldn't happen again... it's impossible. I think people wanted  to experience it but you can't hold a magickal bird in your hand; you have to let it go... and perhaps hope that it will fly back in in another form.

 

If it happened again, it would have a strong intention to be a reaction to the right wing/fascist policies of part of this country... the hip... justice loving part of this country would just all stand up and say "We've had enough... enough of destroying women's rights, book burning, shitting on the environment... we want to restore the values that came along with the sixties... that made this country so exciting"... along with the music that really seemed to speak to everyone... this Woodstock would be a lot more diverse... a lot more people of color and gender acceptance... it would have to be if it were to represent something evolutionary. And peaceful... conscious behavior would be the most important value... that's what made the original so beautiful.

 

How would you describe your directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

I had to get really honest in showing the complexity of my relationship with Andy... I could have made a film just about the pre Woodstock hysteria, etc. but the relationship was integral to the story... it wouldn't have happened if two occasionally feisty dreamers hadn't become obsessed on trying to revive a most historic cultural moment.

 

Do talk about your interviewees in Woodstock: A Snapshot in Time for a bit, and why exactly these people?

 

Richie Havens opened up the festival... a great guy. The Rabbi was just so musical and 'high' in his head. I love the guy who gives free food. He really gets the giving thing and is so bright and open. Danny Goldberg is a big musical honcho. He represented Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, and it was fun to hear about his fancy version of attending the festival.

 

How did you personally experience Woodstock '94?

 

I think I answered that. I was disappointed. It felt like a wannabe event and I couldn't understand why Andy was so involved... but he had found the mushrooms and that made all the difference for him.

 

The $64-question of course, where can Woodstock: A Snapshot in Time be seen?

 

Yea, well I'd like to know the answer as well. It's showing at the Newark Film Festival and then we have to decide how much longer to do the festival route. I would like it to stream on an appropriate platform.

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Woodstock: A Snapshot in Time?

 

We won a bunch of 'laurels' on several of the virtual film festivals. Surprisingly, the Woodstock festival has turned it down. Perhaps it's because it's a small film and doesn't over-glorify the brand, but shows an aspect of the marketing. Still, Susan Curtis, an art professor from England, teaching in Switzerland, loved it and her opinion means everything to me cause she's so goddam smart!

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

Charles Lane, my film partner on Woodstock: A Snapshot in Time, and I have been working on several projects over the years and Something About John (which is part of the triptych) will be finished soon. Charles is also a wonderful animator and artist.

 

I'm also writing a comic memoir, have a small doc about my dad's movie theater I want to cut together and a Scottish rom/com feature that's looking for a producer. I've also written short musicals and want to go back to theatre. Additionally, Dave Ogrin and I have created Climate Control TheatR with music and puppets that we plan to launch this fall on TikTok.

 

What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

I was raised in a movie theatre that was built by my grandfather and run by my dad in a small American town... I was an actress, trained with Shelley Winters through the Actors Studio and did improv. Figured best way to get cast is to make the thing yourself.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Woodstock: A Snapshot in Time?

 

My first film made with Howard Katzman was My Dinner With Abbie... I had met Abbie Hoffman and that was that... Usually, it's not about making a film, but expressing an idea... and Abbie was full of them. Then while living in London, Andy and I were commissioned by Channel 4 to make very indie docs... I had met Malcolm McLaren in New York and he was running for London mayor... that seemed like a good idea. Malcolm McLaren - Not for Sale was the result. I was also a bit of a witch and very interested in magick and energy, so we made the film entitled Which Witch? I put a spell on Andy and he became successful!

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

I have very strong instincts but I'm still too much of a people pleaser... need to work on my bullying skills.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

Fellini, George Stevens, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ozu, Woody Allen, Nicole Holofcener, Michael Powell.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Toughest question... so many... Ishtar... no, kidding! I hate to be a cliche, but I do love Annie Hall, and every year I used to watch Forman's Hair because it lifted me up. Anything Cukor... and a nice new film, A Love Song by Max Walker-Silverman...

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

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Not a huge fan of violence, and sorry to say Bridesmaids... women acting like gross guys, yech.

 

Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?

 

woodstocksnapshotfilm.com

The Lennon film: somethingaboutjohn.com

We have a nice public service announcement... 2 in fact, against shooting. If you want I can send link.

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

What's my birthsign?

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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