The short film ‘The Man Behind The Mountain ‘ is an intimate film made by Ben Stoddard and Dave Ehrenreich about American folk artist Leonard Knight. Leonard Knight who recently passed away in February, leaves behind a legacy of work that he shared freely in the Imperial Valley dessert to experience which he named Salvation Mountain. The film leaves you feeling warm inside and makes you question your greater purpose in the life you live.
Man Behind the Mountain – Summary
What would compel someone to take what appears to be some bad luck – a breakdown in the middle of the California desert – and turn it into their life’s work? The Man Behind The Mountain answers that question.
Salvation Mountain is well known around the world. A burst of color in the desert outside Niland, California, on the Mexican border, it’s a one-man monument built over three decades piece by piece, a gradual accruement of hope, love and joy in physical form. Less is known about the man who built it, Leonard Knight, mostly because that’s the way he liked it. An unassuming man, he preferred to let his mountain speak for itself. And it did, in bright, bold colors and optimistic messages.
After visiting the mountain multiple times, filmmakers spent an intimate extended stay with Leonard at Salvation Mountain. Rather than add to the already vast lexicon on the mountain as an object, they chose to focus their attention on the man who built it. Through interviews with Leonard and his inner circle of friends that cared for him in his fading years, they hoped to learn about the enigmatic artist himself.
Shortly after filming this documentary, Leonard’s faltering health forced him to stop working on Salvation Mountain, the first time that had happened since his truck broke down in that lonely stretch of desert thirty-five years before. Now Leonard is gone, and although his mountain still stands, and will for years to come, its pilgrims want to know about the singular man who put it there, and who we’ve now lost. The Man Behind The Mountain strives to tell some more of that story.
Perhaps the most telling image in a documentary full of them is, suitably, also one of the simplest. Not the mountain itself, thrusting out of the bare desert landscape, but just Leonard sitting on the bed of his long-dead pickup, enjoying an ice cream sandwich. For a man who strove for simplicity and joy, it doesn’t get much better than a quietly content moment like that. That’s how Leonard built Salvation Mountain, moment by moment, and it’s a lot like the way love grows, too: a gradual layering that you don’t really notice until, one day, you do.
Watch the short film here: