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A National Preserve of Documentary Films about American Roots Cultures
streamed with essays about the traditions and filmmaking. The site includes transcriptions, study and teaching guides, suggested readings, and links to related websites.  


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 Bronx Irish at the Ramparts
Selected Films

Films on Work

With AI and robots, Work is changing rapidly in the United States. Here are the many films on Folkstreams about what work used to be.

Films on Work

With AI and robots, Work is changing rapidly in the United States. Here are the many films on Folkstreams about what work used to be.

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Adirondack Minstrel

Lawrence Older [1912-1982] is a relaxed, direct and engaging performer who spent the majority of his life working in the woods. His songs and fiddle tunes are mostly from his family tradition and are representative of the local melodies and the rich musical tradition of America's northeastern states.

Music, Work, Regional / Northeast / 1976
20 minutes | Read More | Preview

Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison
Pete and Toshi Seeger, their son Daniel, and folklorist Bruce Jackson visited a Texas prison in Huntsville in March of 1966 and produced this rare document of of work songs by inmates of the Ellis Unit. web-dl
Music, Work, African American Culture / South / 1966
29 minutes | Read More | Preview

Albert Collins of South Blue Hill: A Video Portrait
Portrait of Albert "Hap" Collins of South Blue Hill, Maine. Hap Collins was a poet, painter, fiddler, lobster fisherman, storyteller, and craftsman.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Narrative & Verbal Arts, Work, Regional, Aging / Northeast / 1989
56 minutes | Read More

Alex Stewart: Cooper
A 1973 film of Alex Stewart, a mountain craftsman from near Sneedville, Tennessee, constructing a churn.  Film includes discussion of the use of non-powered tools and skills handed down in Stewart's family in making wooden containers, such as buckets and barrrels.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work / Appalachia / 1973
11 minutes | Read More | Preview

The Amish: A People of Preservation

The Amish keep surprising their technology-programmed neighbors by keeping alive ways and beliefs that many modern Americans wish they could recapture. Mennonite historian John Ruth takes us sympathetically into the Amish mindset.

Religion, Work, Agriculture, Children, Family, Rural Life, Aging / Middle Atlantic / 1975
54 minutes | Read More | Preview

The Art of Ironworking
The culture and identity of contemporary ironworkers in southwestern Wisconsin.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work / Midwest / 2011
16 minutes | Read More | Preview

Baking Bread! : The Construction of a Communal Bread-Oven in Cambridge, NY

This 28 minute piece documents the construction of a communal bread-oven in Cambridge, NY. As part of the events celebrating the 400th anniversary of the foundation of Quebec City by the French in 2008, traditional artists travelled between Quebec and New England/New York to share their skills; amongst the participating artists was Jean Laberge, traditional woodworker and bread-oven maker, who, with the assistance of Cambridge volunteers, built what has become a focus of the Hubbard Hall Projects, a Cambridge community arts center that fosters cultural and educational projects.

Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Foodways, Work / Northeast / 2011
28 minutes | Read More | Preview

Being A Joines: A Life in the Brushy Mountains
John E. "Frail" Joines was a master tale teller from Wilkes County, N. C., on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. His hunting tales, stories from World War II, and religious narratives, and the life stories of Frail Joines and his wife Blanche mirror changes that swept away much of the traditional culture of his Appalachian rural community in a single generation and show the character and values with which his family met these circumstances.
Narrative & Verbal Arts, Religion, Women, Work, Agriculture, Family, Rural Life, Sports/Hunting / Appalachia / 1981
55 minutes | Read More | Preview

Bellota - A Story of Round-Up

The disappearing traditions of the old cattle ranches of the Southwest are presented in director Philip Spalding's film BELLOTA. This 1969 film concentrates on five Mexican American vacquero-cowboys riding a month-long roundup on an 82,000 acre ranch in the rugged high country of Southern Arizona.

Work, Agriculture, Rural Life, Hispanic Culture / Southwest / 1969
32 minutes | Read More | Preview

Ben's Mill: Making a Sled
Ben Thresher's mill is one of the few water-powered, wood-working mills left in this country. Operating in rural Vermont since 1848, the mill is a unique link between the age of craft and the age of modern industry.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work, Regional / Northeast / 1981
26 minutes | Read More | Preview

The Cameraman Has Visited Our Town
An introduction to H. Lee Waters and his Movies of Local People 1936 to 1942. A film by Tom Whiteside.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work, Costume/Dress, Regional / South / 1989
19 minutes | Read More | Preview

Carnival Train
A behind the scenes look to see how the magic of the midway comes together, town after town, and how carnies create a community and way of life that transcends place and time.
Work, Play / South / 1999
01 hour, 10 minutes | Read More | Preview

Cesar's Bark Canoe
Using only birchbark, cedar splints, spruce roots and gum, Cesar Newashish, a 67 year old Attikamek of the Manawan Reserve demonstrates how to build a canoe the "old" way.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work, Native American / Canada / 1971
57 minutes | Read More


With verve and humor, this film shows the love/hate relationship that women have with the task of cleaning the family's clothes. As we see the clothes flapping in the wind and hear the voices - some proud, some angry, some wistful - we realize that doing laundry calls forth deep feelings about one's role in life.

Women, Work, Family / Any / 1981
32 minutes | Read More | Preview

Crawdad Slip

Sid Luck is a fifth generation potter in Seagrove, North Carolina. This forty-five minute documentary explores his life and work, and the family heritage he hopes to pass on to his two sons, Jason and Matthew.

Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work / South / 1999
45 minutes | Read More | Preview

Dreadful Memories: The Life of Sarah Ogan Gunning, 1910-1983
Born in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky, Gunning suffered a life of bitter poverty which became the fuel for dozens of moving songs about working people, the mines, and the great coal strikes of the twenties and thirties. Gunning's a cappella roots music is intercut throughout the interviews and archival footage.
Music, Women, Work, Social Justice/Protest / Appalachia / 1988
38 minutes | Read More | Preview

Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old
Alan Lomax's examination of the talents and wisdom of elderly musicians, singers, and story-tellers, who perform not for fame or fortune but to preserve and share their culture.
Music, Aging / Any / 1991
58 minutes | Read More | Preview

Edd Presnell: Dulcimer Maker
Edd Presnell, a mountain craftsman and native of Watauga County, North Carolina, demonstrates and comments on the construction of a dulcimer.  Presnell learned his craft from his father-in-law.  Film includes a brief performance on a finished dulcimer by his wife, Nettie.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work / Appalachia / 1973
06 minutes | Read More | Preview

Final Marks: The Art of the Carved Letter
A documentary about lettercutting, in both monumental inscriptions and on gravestones. The filmmakers were given complete access over a two year period to the work of the craftsmen of the John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island, the oldest business in the United States still in continuous operation in the same colonial building. It chronicles the work of John ‘Fud’ Benson, then the owner and principal designer, and, arguably, one of the most accomplished letter cutters in the world.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work / Northeast / 1979
49 minutes | Read More | Preview

Finnish American Lives
A 1982 portrait of traditional Finnish American culture in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, highlighting the fragile community of memory connecting one with parents and grandparents. A Michael Loukinen production from Up North Films.
Customs, Ethnic & Immigrant Cultures, Work, Family / Midwest / 1982
45 minutes | Read More | Preview

Fishing All My Days: Florida Shrimping Traditions
A 1986 film about open sea sprimp fishing in Florida, showing the techniques, rituals, and superstitions of the African American, Anglo, and Mediterranean fishermen.
Foodways, Work / South / 1986
29 minutes | Read More | Preview

Gandy Dancers
Musical traditions and recollections of eight retired African-American railroad track laborers whose occupational folk songs were once heard on railroads that crisscross the South.
Music, Work, African American Culture / South / 1994
30 minutes | Read More | Preview

Gandy Dancers 1973
This remarkable film features field recordings of work chants of Gandy Dancers including aligning songs and chants to knock out slack in the rail. 
Music, Work, African American Culture / Appalachia / 1973
14 minutes | Read More

Give the World a Smile
For generations, the Schuyler family has lived and farmed around the Lowgap Community in North Carolina, and for generations they have produced singers who led revival meetings, attended singing schools, performed at old-time day-long singings, and sang in countless churches.
Music, Religion, Work, Agriculture, Family / South / 1981
26 minutes | Read More | Preview

Going, Going, Going
Going, Going, Going tells the story of aspiring auctioneer Mark Kuhn and how he learns his craft. Rural life is at the heart of the livestock's heritage and chosen profession. Going, Going, Going shows how the auctioneer pursuing this career fares among the shifting sands of today's disappearing rural world.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work, Agriculture, Rural Life / Pacific Northwest / 1990
59 minutes | Read More | Preview

The Good Life: Mino-Bimadiziwin
Mino-bimadiziwin: The Good Life is an engaging portrait of a community on the White Earth reservation in Minnesota where the peoples' lives revolve around the annual harvest of wild rice. Many wonderful and intimate moments show the hardships and rewards experienced by those who continue to live off the land.
Foodways, Work, Rural Life, Native American / Midwest / 1997
58 minutes | Read More | Preview

Halsted Street USA

Nowhere in America does a stretch of pavement slice through a more vibrant and diverse cross-section of humanity than Chicago's Halsted Street. Along its length one can view a dozen nationalities, a thousand lifestyles -- the American melting pot at full boil.

Ethnic & Immigrant Cultures, Foodways, Work, Urban Life, Social Justice/Protest / Midwest / 1995
56 minutes | Read More | Preview

Hazel Dickens: It's Hard to Tell the Singer from the Song

From the coalfields of West Virginia to the factories of Baltimore, Hazel Dickens has lived the songs she sings. Interviews with Hazel and fellow musicians such as Alison Krauss, Naomi Judd, and Dudley Connell are interwoven with archival footage, recent performances, and 16 songs including “Mama’s Hand,” “ Working Girl Blues,” and “Black Lung.”

Music, Women, Work, Folkmusic Revival, Social Justice/Protest / Appalachia / 2001
01 hour, 00 minutes | Read More | Preview

High Steel
This short documentary offers a dizzying view of the Mohawk Indians of Kahnawake who work in Manhattan erecting the steel frames of skyscrapers.
Work, Native American / Canada / 1965
14 minutes | Read More | Preview

I Ain't Lying: Folktales from Mississippi
16mm color documentary based on fieldwork William Ferris conducted with African American storytellers and bluesmen in the communities of Leland and Rose Hill, Mississippi. The stories include include folk and religious tales, jokes, toast telling sessions, and characters from African American oral tradition.
Music, Narrative & Verbal Arts, Work, African American Culture / South / 1975
22 minutes | Read More | Preview

Its All In My Hands: John Prince, Shoemaker

Young Italian American shoemaker John Prince, following in his father Tony's footsteps, invites you into his shop to share the pleasure and pride he feels from his work.

Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Ethnic & Immigrant Cultures, Work / Middle Atlantic / 1972
08 minutes | Read More | Preview

The Last Shovel Maker

Harvey Ward, age 87, carves beautiful grained shovels with a double edged axe.

Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work, Aging / Middle Atlantic / 1974
10 minutes | Read More | Preview

Lige: Portrait of a Rawhide Braider
Henry Elijah "Lige" Langston was born in 1908 in the Great Basin outback on a homestead. He worked his entire life as a wrangler and rawhide braider in the region known as the Sagebrush Corner of northeastern California and northwestern Nevada.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Narrative & Verbal Arts, Work, Rural Life / West / 1985
29 minutes | Read More | Preview

Mermaids, Frog Legs, and Fillets
Long before the advent of hip-hop as a multi-million dollar industry, African Americans were rapping and rhyming in the street, in their neighborhoods, and on the fish market docks in Washington DC. A 1978 film by academy award winning filmmaker Paul Wagner with folklorist Steve Zeitlin and Jack Santino.
Foodways, Work, African American Culture / Middle Atlantic / 1978
18 minutes | Read More

Morgan Sexton: Bull Creek Banjo Player
Eastern Kentucky's Morgan Sexton cut his first banjo out of the bottom of a lard bucket, and some seventy years later won the National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Award for his "amazingly pure and unaffected singing and playing style." In this program, the eighty-year-old Sexton shares his life and music.
Music, Work, Rural Life, Aging / Appalachia / 1991
28 minutes | Read More | Preview

Mouth Music
Boot-camp count-off chants, jump-rope rhymes, and carny barks are featured in this fast-moving sampler of “proto-music” from the imaginations and versatile mouths of southern folk musicians.
Music, Work / South / 1981
25 minutes | Read More | Preview

New Life
A.R. Cole began building a barn in 1927 and asked his wife if it should be for tobacco or pottery. She did not have a preference and realized it was to be for pottery when the rafters were too short for tobacco. Thus continued the Cole family tradition begun in the 1600s in Staffordshire, England. Neolia (who was born on the day in 1927 when A.R. fired his first batch of pottery) and Celia, his daughters, continue the tradition today with Neolia's grandson, Kenneth, at their shop in Sanford, NC.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work / South / 2000
55 minutes | Read More | Preview

One Big Union: Ralph Fasanella

Ralph Fasanella was born on Labor Day, 1914 in New York's Little Italy neighborhood to Joe the Iceman and Ginevre the Buttonhole Maker from Bari, Italy. His rough childhood among impoverished immigrants, service in the Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, labor union activism and committed humanitarianism are captured in his panoramic paintings of New York and, especially, of New England industrial mills and striking workers.

Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work, Social Justice/Protest / Northeast / 1983
12 minutes | Read More | Preview

Ott Blair: Sledmaker
Demonstration of and commentary on the mountain craft of building wooden farm sleds by Ott Blair, a native of Heaton, North Carolina.  Discussion includes first selling sled and his attitudes toward economic self-sufficiency.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work, Agriculture / Appalachia / 1973
05 minutes | Read More | Preview

Our Lives in Our Hands
This 1986 film examines the traditional Native American craft of split ash basketmaking as a means of economic and cultural survival for Aroostook Micmac Indians of northern Maine. This documentary of rural off-reservation Indian artisans aims to break down stereotypical images. Basketmakers are filmed at their craft in their homes, at work on local potato farms and at business meetings of the Basket Bank, a cooperative formed by the Aroostook Micmac Council. First person commentaries are augmented by authentic 17th century Micmac music.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work, Rural Life, Native American / Northeast / 1986
49 minutes | Read More | Preview

Parchman Penitentiary
William Ferris's 1969 movie of singing and preaching in the Mississippi State Penitentiary. Shot on B&W 8-mm film. Ferris added the recorded sound later, and it is not in complete sync.
Music, Religion, Work, African American Culture / South / 1969
18 minutes | Read More

Pilebutts: Working Under the Hammer
A union-produced documentary about pile drivers, courageous men and women better known as "pilebutts," who secure structures like bridges and skyscrapers to the earth. Pilebutts weaves history and folklore into a modern story of individuals doing tough, often dangerous industrial work.
Work / West / 2003
28 minutes | Read More | Preview

Pioneer Axe
This is a short film made by Peter Vogt in 1965 about axe making in Oakland, Maine. It documents the process of creating fine axes in the Emerson Stevens shop -- the last axe factory to operate in Oakland. Oakland was once a world-famous center of quality blade-making.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work, Regional / Northeast / 1965
10 minutes | Read More

Ranch Album

Ranch Album celebrates rough country ranching in Northern Arizona and shows real cowboy life.

Work, Agriculture, Rural Life / West / 1987
01 hour, 04 minutes | Read More | Preview

Ray Lum: Mule Trader
Ray Lum (1891--1977) was a mule skinner, a livestock trader, an auctioneer, and an American original.
Narrative & Verbal Arts, Work, Agriculture / South / 1972
18 minutes | Read More | Preview

The Sea Bright Skiff: Working on the Jersey Shore
The Sea Bright-style skiff dates back to the mid 1800s along the North Jersey Shore. Charles Hankins still hand-crafts these boats of New Jersey cedar and green oak, though they no longer serve as fishing vessels. He demonstrates the process of building the skiff, step by step.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work / Middle Atlantic / 1991
28 minutes | Read More | Preview

Singing Fishermen of Ghana
Pete and Toshi Seeger documented work songs of a fishing community in Ghana, the West-African roots of the work-song tradition shown in the films "Afro American Worksongs in a Texas Prison" and "Gandy Dancers".
Music, Work / World / 1964
13 minutes | Read More | Preview


Delbert Smith, 88, a hereditary blacksmith, illuminates life around the forge.

Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work, Rural Life, Aging / Northeast / 1974
05 minutes | Read More | Preview

Sometimes I Run: Stanley Maupin, Sidewalk Flusher
1973 portrait of Stanley Maupin who cleans sidewalks at night for the Dallas Department of Sanitation. A film by Blaine Dunlap with music by Ken Watson.
Work, Urban Life / South / 1973
21 minutes | Read More | Preview

This Is Our Slaughterhouse
This 22 minute documentary follows the ten workers of Broerman Poultry Processing, revealing their surprisingly close relationships, despite the gruesome nature of their job. The colorful interviews and raw supporting footage give new perspectives on family values, hard work, and what happens inside a slaughterhouse. The film was made by Matthew Broerman, a son of the owner of the slaughterhouse.
Work, Family, Rural Life / Midwest / 2000
22 minutes | Read More | Preview

Unbroken Tradition
Unbroken Tradition is a portrait of Jerry Brown, a ninth generation potter from Hamilton, Alabama. It looks at the continuation of this family tradition since Jerry's great-great-great grandfather set up his potter's wheel in Georgia around 1800.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work / South / 1986
29 minutes | Read More | Preview


In 1965 New York filmmaker Holly Fisher focused her camera on the annual skipjack race on the Chesapeake Bay, and on skipjack captain Art Daniels. Over the next three years, she and her co-director, Romas Slezas, filmed Daniels, his family and his colleagues oystering and crabbing and living on the Chesapeake.

Work, Agriculture, Family, Rural Life / Middle Atlantic / 1968
01 hour, 03 minutes | Read More | Preview

We Are Arabbers

We Are Arabbers follows the horse-and-wagon produce vendors along the streets of Baltimore, Maryland as they struggle to make a living and maintain their unique culture.

Customs, Foodways, Work, African American Culture / Middle Atlantic / 2004
01 hour, 21 minutes | Read More | Preview

When My Work Is Over: The Life and Stories of Miss Louise Anderson, 1921-1994
The gifted African American storyteller Louise Anderson (1921-1994) tells her family stories and folk tales, and recites poetry in this film taped in Jacksonville, North Carolina, in the last years of her life. Her sisters Evelyn Anderson and Dorothy McLeod join Louise in recalling their experiences growing up in the South, working in restaurants and as domestics in white households, and struggling for civil rights in the early 1960s.
Narrative & Verbal Arts, Women, Work, Costume/Dress, Aging, African American Culture, Social Justice/Protest / South / 2000
38 minutes | Read More | Preview

Why The Cowboy Sings

The cowboy's job has always been dangerous, lonely, dusty, gory and low-paying. So why do cowboys make music, and why do they need to tell their story? Why the Cowboy Sings is a journey across the open West to explore this unique genre of folk art.

Music, Work, Rural Life, Native American / West / 2002
58 minutes | Read More | Preview

Wild Caught: The Life and Struggles of an American Fishing Town
WILD CAUGHT chronicles the lives of fisherman carrying out small scale, sustainable commercial fishing in the town of Snead's Ferry, North Carolina, and their struggles to keep afloat amidst a rising tide of cheap imports, stifling regulations, and coastal real estate development interests.
Work, Sports/Hunting, Social Justice/Protest / South / 2006
01 hour, 29 minutes | Read More | Preview

Winter Harvest

This film documents the activities of the Bear Creek Ice Company in northeastern Pennsylvania through interviews with former employees, who describe working conditions and the process of "harvesting" the ice from a string of five lakes.

Work, Rural Life / Middle Atlantic / 1987
20 minutes | Read More | Preview

With These Hands: The Story of an American Furniture Factory
In March 2007, unable to compete with cheaper offshore production, Hooker Furniture Company closed its plant in Martinsville, Virginia, after 83 years in operation. “With These Hands” follows the last load of kiln-dried wood down the assembly line as it is cut, honed, and assembled into fine furniture. Along the way, employees at the factory share their perspectives on work, community, and survival in a country devastated by deindustrialization and outsourcing.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Work, Social Justice/Protest / South / 2009
01 hour, 18 minutes | Read More | Preview

Woodsmen and River Drivers
Men and women who worked for the Machias Lumber Company before 1930 share their recollections of the logging industry in Maine when they cut trees by hand, hauled logs to the river with horses, and floated them down to the mill. Remarkable documentary footage from the 1930's illustrate this dangerous and exhausting work.
Work, Regional, Rural Life / Northeast / 1989
28 minutes | Read More | Preview

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