Discipline: Film/Video, documentary

Les Blank

Discipline: Film/Video, documentary
Region: Berkeley Hills, CA
More: lesblank.com

Edward MacDowell Medalist: 2007

Les Blank (1935-2013) was an American documentary filmmaker best known for his portraits of American traditional musicians. He was the first documentary filmmaker to be awarded the Edward MacDowell Medal. Blank attended Phillips Academy Andover, and Tulane University in New Orleans, where he received a B.A. in English literature and a Master of Fine Arts in theater. He also studied communications at the University of Southern California. Following his university education, he worked for a production company called Operation Success, making films that he would later describe as "insipid films that promote business and industry."

He founded his own production company, Flower Films, in 1967 with the release of God Respects Us When We Work, but Loves Us When We Dance, a short colorful document of Los Angeles' Elysian Park Love-in. This was followed by The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins (1968) and The Sun's Gonna Shine (1968). He never went back to work making industrial films and all of his films were independently produced, often with the assistance of grants from cultural agencies, both governmental and non-governmental.

Most of Blank’s films focused on American traditional music forms, including (among others) blues, Appalachian, Cajun, Creole, Tex-Mex, polka, tamburitza, and Hawaiian music. Many of these films represent the only filmed documents of musicians who are now deceased. Blank's films focusing on musical subjects often spent much of their running time focusing not on the music itself but on the music's cultural context, portraying the surroundings from which these American musical styles come.