The following is the text of a speech given by Peggy Bulger before the March 11, 2007 AFI Folkstreams event and concert for Catching the Music.
Good afternoon, I’m Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The Center was created by an act of Congress in 1976 to “preserve and present American folklife” and we are home to the world’s largest ethnographic archive, with over 4 million items, in every format, including film and video formats. These recordings are part of our cultural heritage and continue to be invaluable to scholars and artists, who research the folk cultures that inform our lives. The American Folklife Center is pleased to be associated with Folkstreams, a unique web initiative to make ethnographic documentary films available to all through preservation and access.
www.folkstreams.net is a video-streaming website, built as a national repository of documentary films and videos that celebrate American roots culture. These films have been produced by independent filmmakers, folklorists, anthropologists and others and they document the diverse cultures that make up the American experience – music, dance, storytelling, craft, folk medicine, belief, rituals and family folklore are all found in the films of Folkstreams. The idea for Folkstreams grew out of attempts by documentary filmmakers to get their films seen, since they don’t often fit the mold for mass-market outlets, and this is work that mainstream corporate sponsors have ignored over the years. However, Folkstreams carries some of the most significant and artistic documentaries of the 20th century . . . this is not YouTube! Like the Farm Security Administration photo collection at the Library of Congress, or the Alan Lomax field recordings of Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Jelly Roll Morton at the American Folklife Center, Folkstreams will define important aspects of our national culture, these films are essential to our cultural memory. The films preserve the style and the context of enacted folk performance, two keys to the interpretation of a text, an object, or an event that, before the advent of film technology, could not be adequately documented.
The films are streamed on the website together with extensive background materials that highlight the importance of the documentary record. This project was the brainchild of Tom Davenport, and it’s my pleasure to introduce Tom to you today.
Tom Davenport is an independent filmmaker and distributor who hails from Delaplane, Virginia. He graduated from Yale University and went to Hong Kong with a Yale program to teach English in New Asia College. He subsequently spent several years in Taiwan studying Chinese language and culture. He began his filmmaking career by working with documentary filmmakers Richard Leacock and Don Pennebacker in NYC. His first documentary film was completed in 1969 on the Chinese traditional art of Tai Chi. The next year he returned to rural Virginia and established an independent film company with his wife and co-producer, Mimi. They are best known for a series of films that feature traditional folktales, titled “From the Brothers Grimm” and they won the Andrew Carnegie Award from the American Library Association for “Best Children’s Film of 1998”. When Tom met up with folklorist Dan Patterson of the folklore faculty at UNC at Chapel Hill, they produced a series of folklife documentaries that celebrate southern culture and are used regularly in the training of folklorists.
Tom was the inspiration and perspiration behind Folkstreams, which has taken off in a major way in the past few years. It is fitting that the AFI Silver Theater is honoring Folkstreams today, so please welcome the Godfather of Folkstreams, Tom Davenport.