Art Works Blog

Spotlight on Folkstreams Films

Today as we kick off the week leading up to Friday’s celebration of master folk and traditional artists—the annual NEA National Heritage Fellowships Concert—we’re taking a look at Folkstreams, a nonprofit dedicated to archiving films that capture the richness and diversity of American culture. While the physical archive is held and maintained by the Southern Folklife Collection, the films, many shot on 16 mm film, are also available for streaming via the Folkstream website. In addition to the films, the website also includes additional materials, such as transcripts, study guides, and links to related resources. 

Some of the films in the collection are by folklorists whose names are recognizable by mainstream culture, such as Alan Lomax. However, many of them were shot by community folklorists documenting everything from the work of so-called “outsider” artists to culture-specific religious and coming-of-age ceremonies to art forms associated with certain industries, such as the railroads.

Here’s how founder Tom Davenport describes the archive: “The films are by older, maverick filmmakers and folklorists who did the work because they loved their subjects. This work is something that the mainstream corporate culture paid little attention to. However, the body of work contains some of the most significant and artistic documentaries of the 20th century. These films have been notoriously hard to distribute but now we bring them to the people.”

With Davenport’s help we’ve curated seven films from the collection that feature NEA National Heritage Fellows or art forms, such as quilting, whose master practitioners have received the award. We’ve embedded the trailers for each film, and encourage you to visit Folkstreams to watch the selected films in full and to discover other films of interest. (Ed. Note: All film descriptions are taken --with slight edits--from the descriptions posted on YouTube with each trailer.)

An account of the blues experience through the recollections and performances of NEA National Heritage Fellow B.B. King, Son Thomas, inmates from Parchman prison, a barber from Clarkesdale, a salesman from Beale Street, and others. Give My Poor Heart Ease (1974) is one of a series of films made in Mississippi in the mid 1970s by William Ferris and the Center for Southern Folklore and produced in association with Howard Sayre Weaver. View the entire film here

In Appalachian Journey (1991), Alan Lomax travels through the Southern Appalachians investigating the songs, dances, and religious rituals of the descendents of the Scotch-Irish frontiers people who have made the mountains their home for centuries. Performances by Frank Proffitt, Jr., Ray Fairchild, and NEA National Heritage Fellows Sheila Kay Adams, Janette Carter, Tommy Jarrell, and Ray and Stanley Hicks. View the entire film here

A Jumping Night in the Garden of Eden (1986) is the first film to document the klezmer revival, tracing the efforts of two founding groups, Kapelye and Boston's Klezmer Conservatory Band, to recover the lost history of klezmer music. A Michal Goldman film. View the entire film here.

Using New York City as its focus, Patrick Mullins' From Shore to Shore (1993) examines both the continuity and the changes that have affected Irish traditional music since the turn of the century. Mixing historical photographs and film footage with contemporary interviews and performances, it traces the influence of family and community, Irish immigration, and American popular culture on traditional music, in the process showing how Irish traditional music became a powerful vehicle for the transmission of ethnic identity from generation to generation. View the entire film here

No single figure in American music so dominated a genre as Bill Monroe did bluegrass. This Steve Gebhardt film (1993) stands alone as the most intimate and detailed portrait of this unique musical innovator, creating an experience akin to having a one-on-one conversation with the bluegrass master. The film features archival footage and rare 1990s performances from Monroe's final years, including many of the greatest songs from his seven decades of recording, among them "Uncle Pen" and "Muleskinner Blues". In addition, it offers unparalleled access to Bill Monroe, following him from the backstage of the Grand Ole Opry to his farm outside Nashville and on the road in his legendary Blue Grass Express tour bus. Interview subjects range from the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia to country music pioneer Roy Acuff, in one of his final film appearances. View the entire film here

From the placing of an order to the completion of the last stitch, Kathleen Ware: Quiltmaker (1979) details the entire process of creating a traditional Lone Star quilt. As the quilt grows, so does our knowledge of Kathleen Ware's vibrant spirit as quiltmaker, wife, mother, and grandmother. A film by Sharon Sherman. View the entire film here

Zydeco: Creole Music and Culture in Rural Louisiana is a film by Nick Spitzer--frequent emcee of the NEA National Heritage Fellowships Concert Celebration--on African-American dance-hall music in French-speaking southwest Louisiana, with Dolon Carriere, Armand Ardoin, and NEA National Heritage Fellow Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin. View the entire film here.

Don't forget to join us in person or online at arts.gov this Friday, September 19 at 8:00 pm for the 2014 NEA National Heritage Fellowships Concert.

 

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