Who doesn’t love a 76 year old man wearing a cardigan? Les blank is cool and approachable and at the end of his presentation I wanted to walk over to him and smell his sweater. Thankfully for my co-workers, I decided against it and shook his hand instead.
He spoke at an event hosted by the SF Film Society called “Master Class: Les Blank on Documentary” — thank you ITVS! Most film fanatics out there have heard of Les Blank, or, at the very least they are familiar with some of his films such as Burden of Dreams or A Poem Is a Naked Person. For me, it wasn’t until attending this seminar that I was introduced to some of his other work and got a taste of his unique voice as a documentarian.
Les Blank is tall, thin, and has a wonderfully trimmed, thick white beard. He is soft spoken, goes straight to the point, and most importantly, he is one of the most humble filmmakers I’ve ever met. If you tell Les Blank he is a true artist, he will give you a puzzled look followed by a nonchalant ‘thanks’; when you ask him what his secret is, he will tell you he has none; and if somebody comments on his amazing ability to get unlimited access he will make a joke and say ‘I just hang around until eventually people get tired of me’. Les Blank’s vision is not simple but he doesn’t waste much time presenting himself as a superior visionaire.
I have seen about four of his films, all produced by his production company Flower Films. After watching them I began to admire how Les Blank captures situations and people is a very gentle way. He doesn’t stage any of his interviews and he may toss cue cards up in the air to give himself a fresh start in the editing room. Rather than producing with his thinking mind, Les Blank feels the story and then goes from there.
By looking him up on imdb it becomes obvious that Les is constantly working, always looking for the next interesting story to tell. His films capture family, traditions, soul, passion, and so many other aspects of life. Without documentary filmmakers like him, we would miss out on a great opportunity to experience the world through a different point of view, from another angle, with a different lens. That’s what a brilliant documentary filmmaker does, he lets a subject be free to express itself without judgements or hesitation. Les knows how to be patient behind the camera yet he is fearless when it comes to finding the true nature of the story. And regardless of his liking of the label, I think Les Blank is a genuine, passionate artist whose films inspire, educate, and resonate with audiences of all ages, all around the world.