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Blank Slate

This year's Sebastopol doc fest showcases Les Blank


LES IS MORE Documentarian Les Blank's films ranged far and wide. Blank Slate
  • LES IS MORE Documentarian Les Blank's films ranged far and wide. Blank Slate

Now in its eighth year, the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival is once again taking over the town, with 70 films screening March 26–29.

Presented by the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, the lineup of diverse documentaries and engaging guests this year spotlights international efforts and technical achievements, and at the center of the eclectic schedule is the festival's tribute to Les Blank, "A Well-Spent Life."

A longtime Berkeley resident, Les Blank was a passionate documentarian who explored universal issues through quirky and intimate portraits. The festival's retrospective offers some of the more idiosyncratic and experimental works in Blank's filmography, including 1987's Gap-Toothed Women, a light-hearted love letter to beauty that puts a questioning eye on the social standards of attractiveness. Screening with it on March 28 is 1980's Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers, Blank's investigation into the hypnotic aroma and taste of the Old World staple.

Also on March 28, Sebastopol's Rialto Cinemas screens two Les Blank films that focus on another prolific and obsessive director, Werner Herzog. First is the 1980 short documentary Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, in which (you guessed it) the German director boils and devours his old footwear as payment on a bet. Following that is perhaps Blank's most lauded documentary, 1982's Burden of Dreams, in which Blank follows Herzog into the jungles of the Amazon to film Fitzcarraldo, itself an ambitious film about the real-life transporting of a steamship over a mountain.

March 29, two of Blank's later music documentaries, 1989's J'ai Été au Bal ("I Went to the Dance") and 1991's Marc & Ann, screen at Rialto Cinemas. These films are considered definitive studies of Louisiana's Cajun and zydeco music.

Those influenced by Blank will be on hand to discuss his legacy, not only as a filmmaker, but also as a mentor and teacher. Finally, Blank's last film, completed after his death in 2013, will show March 27 at Rialto Cinemas.

The Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival opens with an awards party and the California premiere of the Greenpeace documentary How to Change the World. There is also a special spotlight on sound design March 28, as award-winning designer James LeBrecht appears in a talk and demonstration of the oft-overlooked art of sound in film. Other highlights include the Friday peer pitch and the student invitational, advancing the festival's goals of nurturing aspiring filmmakers and the filmmaking community.

For details and a full film schedule, visit

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