It's a steamy day in Woods Hole Massachusetts. At the moment I'm sitting in the Redfield Auditorium, the only air conditioned venue where Judy Laster, the festival's Executive Director, has (thankfully) moved my 2:00 panel discussion. My techie friend and filmmaker, David Tames, invited me to come down to the Film Festival and participate in a presentation that also included Les Blank, the well-known documentary filmmaker and featured guest of the festival, and Annie Valva, director of research and on-line media development for WGBH-Boston's PBS station. Our topic was The Future of Long Form Documentary in the Age of Internet Video.
I've presented many talks covering this issue as it is something we, at Documentary Educational Resources (www.der.org), grapple with everyday in our efforts to reach audiences for the more than 700 titles we distribute.
David is an excellent moderator. I've seen him in action at a number of similar events like the Beyond Broadcast Symposium held a few months ago at M.I.T.. It's my first time attending the Woods Hole Festival (although we have sent representatives who gave the event mixed reviews in the past) but I was pleased that I'd have the opportunity to speak personally with Les Blank and to see his latest film, ALL IN THIS TEA.
Les was a personal favorite of fellow filmmaker and founder of our company, John Marshall. Les is a true pioneer of the closely observed, long form documentary that our company supports. He is perhaps most well known for portraits of American traditional musicians such as THE BLUES ACCORDIN' TO LIGHTNIN' HOPKINS. He's also produced over 30 other award winning films such as BURDEN OF DREAMS, WERNER HERTZOG EATS HIS SHOE and GARLIC IS AS GOOD AS TEN MOTHERS. Les has always self-distributed through his company, Flower Films, out of California. Knowing how difficult and time-consuming self-distribution is, it was my thought that perhaps Les might be at a stage in his career where he would appreciate handing over the business side of his operation to us, leaving him to focus his energy, for the remainder of his career, on making films. He is of an age when many artists start to slow down. I have been discussing the possibility of his accepting our offer of a distribution deal for some time, and while he's not yet ready to give up control, he's certainly expressed some interest.
As I sat in the auditorium, the Sunday morning coffee and panel with filmmakers James Lipscomb, Peter Lake, Tom Chapin, Eugene Clark, Greg Skomal, Nick Caloyanis and Jim Packer was just breaking up. It was a follow-up event to the Opening Night screening of the classic 1971 film BLUE WATER, WHITE DEATH made with Peter Gimbal – The first documentary to include 35mm footage of the elusive great white shark. The film was a fitting choice as the festival opener given the festival location perched on the edge of the harbor at Woods Hole. The screening was a tribute to director, writer and cinematographer, Gimbal and to celebrate the MGM Television announcement of the release of the newly remastered HD version of the film.
Our panel presentation drew a respectable audience, made up mostly of filmmakers whose work was being screened at the festival. Les is a laid back, enigmatic soul with a subtle sense of humor. While I was only down for the day, he was in town for the week, acting as an artist-in-residence for the festival. Later in the evening I came back to the theater for the premiere of ALL IN THIS TEA, a profile of excentric tea importer David Lee Hoffman . It was tough to figure out in advance how interesting this film might be, given the esoteric subject, but Les did not disappoint. It was a marvelous, informative, serious and funny film, that educated the audience about issues regarding trade with China, currently a very hot topic, without them even being aware that they were being educated. AND it was uplifting at the end. You can't do better than that. So while my participation in the festival was brief, it was well worthwhile, and we wrapped it up by inviting Les to a meal at one of Woods Hole's fine seaside restaurants. It was a good group, we all had a fine time and hopefully, at some point in the near future, we will be working together with Les Blank to help reach an even wider audience for his unique and engaging vision.