By Marybeth Cale, writer/publicist/certified life coach, Living Rhinebeck magazine and calecommunications.com

Photos by M. Salamone of Carrick Photography, http://www.carrick-photo.net/

Carrick/ M. Salamone photo blog – https://gr8full.wordpress.com/

Carrickphoto@gmail.com

Rhinebeck, NY (The Hollywood Times) 10/12/17 – The 18th annual “Fiercely Independent” Woodstock Film Fest is underway in New York State’s exquisite, vibrant Hudson River Valley Region with an incredible lineup of screenings, parties, music, and panels in Rhinebeck, Kingston, Saugerties, Woodstock, and Rosendale.

Locals would say that it is kind of in the region’s DNA to host the celebration of all things creative year after year, and there is definitely consensus among the actors, filmmakers, movie lovers, and directors with whom we have spoken since people starting arriving this past Wednesday. The area is home to a rich history of culture, film, music, and art, and today attracts celebrities, writers, and producers who are working collaboratively to strengthen the film industry in WFF’s native Ulster County and surrounding areas. (Read more about Mary Stuart Masterson’s efforts here.)

Looking forward to enjoying a number of films over the next few days, but here’s the first review:

My Name is Pedro (World Premiere, Upstate Films, Rhinebeck, New York 10/12/2017)

From the moment Pedro Santana walks across the screen in the first scene of this uplifting, eye-opening documentary, you feel as if he is walking right into your heart. His effervescent personality, candor, honesty, unwavering love for life, and contagious optimism is captured beautifully, skilfully, and deliberately throughout the film as first-time director and longtime talent manager Lillian LaSalle and her brilliant team follow Pedro, a former special education student, through his unexpected rise to a powerful position as school administrator, his near-demise in the face of brutal, devastating bureaucracy, and his ongoing quest (and innate ability) to connect deeply with students, and all humans, in a way that transforms the way they see themselves and the world. With a captivating, authentic, larger-than-life presence, Pedro illuminates the fact that successful educators must first speak to the hearts of their students if they are truly going to shape their minds. He describes early learning experiences with Ms. Torres, a teacher who believed deeply in him and who loved him like a son; Torres surprised the filmmaker, crew, and audience during the Q&A when she vocalized the joy she felt as a result of the relationship she developed with Pedro – a reminder that ultimately, the teacher-student relationship is most successful when it is a symbiotic one.

Pedro embodies everything beautiful about humanity, and throughout the film’s twists and turns (some of which were totally unexpected), the team captured his essence, clearly embracing the opportunity to give his story the justice it deserves. As LaSalle shared in the Q&A following the premiere, “(When I was with Pedro), I felt like a better version of myself but couldn’t explain why.” Everyone in the theater felt the same way as we watched his journey take shape; it was the main topic of discussion at the after-party.

This film sheds light on our social responsibility to build an education system designed to inspire our children, teachers, and communities to be the best version of themselves as well; Pedro’s captivating, moving story deserves to be shared far and wide with school districts across the country and beyond. Gratitude to LaSalle and her exceptional team for giving our country the gift of Pedro’s wonderfully told story; indeed, it is a powerful and empowering documentary that could be a “change agent” as its subject was.

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