A National Preserve of American Folklore Stories

Folkstreams mission is to find, catalog and preserve documentary films of American culture.

The films on Folkstreams are often produced by independent filmmakers and focus on the culture, struggles, and arts of unnoticed Americans from many different regions and communities. The filmmakers were driven more by sheer engagement with the people and their traditions than by commercial hopes. Their films have unusual subjects, odd lengths, and talkers who do not speak "broadcast English." Although they won prizes at film festivals, were used in college classes, and occasionally were shown on PBS, they found few outlets commercial theaters, video shops or television. But they have permanent value.

They come from the same intellectual movement that gave rise to American studies, regional and ethnic studies, the "new history," "performance theory," and investigation of tenacious cultural styles in phenomena like song, dance, storytelling, visual designs, and ceremonies. They also respond to the intense political and social ferment of the period.

Many of the films are linked to significant published research. Folkstreams draws on this material to accompany and illuminate both the subjects and the filmmaking. And the films themselves add powerful dimensions to print scholarship. They offer a direct experience of unfamiliar worlds. Many of these worlds are now receding into the historical past. Folkstreams mission is to preserve these films, these worlds, and these stories.

FOLKSTREAMS INC is a 501c3 non-profit organization.

Our History

The idea of creating Folkstreams grew out of a love of filmmaking and a respect for the traditional culture of ordinary Americans.

Unable to make a living solely from his documentaries Tom Davenport developed From the Brothers Grimm, a successful series of dramatized adaptations of fairy tales translated into American settings. This led him and his wife and partner Mimi Davenport in 1999 to construct a website for their feature-length film Willa: An American Snow White. They quickly saw that the Internet had the potential also to connect documentary filmmakers with niche audiences. A website streaming major films on American vernacular culture could introduce audiences worldwide to important works they would otherwise never learn of or see. Bringing awareness to hard-to-find films could benefit viewers and also increase video and stock footage sales for the filmmakers and their distributors. The films themselves and the prospect of a viable career might also encourage a new generation of filmmakers to take up documentary work.

As independent filmmakers they did not have access to standard advertising and distribution systems. Neither movie theatres nor commercial television networks would show them. Video stores, when they spread across the country, wanted the Hollywood blockbuster hit. Public television sometimes broadcast the films, particularly in early years, but its programmers were uneasy with several characteristics of these documentaries. The films often ran in odd lengths that did not fit into the time slots crystallized for television. They lacked the stars to draw an immediate audience. The language of the subjects was a barrier. They spoke dialects colored by race and region and class or even languages like Cajun French. Audiences might lack the background to understand the social worlds that the films showed. The documentaries to which public-television programmers instead gravitated typically had national historical subjects presented through scripted narration intercut with archival photographs, newsreel footage, and talking heads of scholars. If independent filmmakers could not work through existing media institutions, they also found that they had no good way to advertise and sell to the general public. They therefore targeted libraries and schools but had no effective way to acquaint them with their films or to make a living vending them at prices that would promote purchases.

Partners

IBiblio.org

IBIBLIO.ORG at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a diverse and expansive collection of information on the Internet, created and maintained by the public, for the public. Dubbed "The Public's Library," ibiblio is home to one of the largest "collections of collections" on the Internet. ibiblio.org is a contributor-driven and author-managed conservancy of freely available information, including software, music, literature, art, history, science, politics, and cultural studies. ibiblio also offers streaming audio and video. Paul Jones, one of the members of the Folkstreams committee, directs ibiblio.org.

The University of North Carolina

THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA at Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science (SILS), established in 1931, is home to a dynamic interdisciplinary educational and research environment. SILS was ranked first in the nation for overall excellence in the latest U.S. News & World Report survey of 50 accredited graduate schools of information and library science. The School strives to achieve excellence and leadership as it conducts inquiry devoted to information and its role in society; fosters effective access to information; prepares reflective, adaptive information professionals for action in the present and the future; and inspires in its students an uncompromising advocacy for knowledge.

The Southern Folklife Collection

THE SOUTHERN FOLKLIFE COLLECTION in the library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the nation's foremost archival resources for the study of American folk music and popular culture. SFC holdings extensively document all forms of Southern musical and oral traditions and their related traditions in the rest of the United States. The Southern Folklife Collection contains nearly 200,000 sound recordings including cylinders, acetate discs, wire recordings, 78-rpm and 45-rpm discs, LPs, cassettes, CDs, and open reel tapes. Moving-image materials include over 4,000 video recordings and 18 million feet of motion picture film. Paper-based materials include thousands of photographs, song folios, posters, manuscripts, and ephemeral items. Steve Weiss, the Sound and Image Librarian for this collection, is also a member of the Folkstreams committee.


Funding

Continuing funding for Folkstreams provided by:

Logo for the National Endowment for the Arts

With additional past support from:

Logo for the Institute for Museum and Library Services
Logo for the National Endowment for the Humanities