Folkstreams mission is to find, catalog and preserve documentary films of American culture.
- The idea for Folkstreams grew out of attempts by documentary filmmakers to gain greater exposure for their films. Although many of these films have won film festival awards and critical acclaim, they do not fit easily into mass-market outlets like movie theatres, video shops, and broadcast and cable television. The films often have odd lengths, lack "name actors," and sometimes star people who do not speak "broadcast English." The Internet, however, links these films to special interest, "niche" audiences that heretofore could not be reached easily. The site does not have to be mass marketed to a specific time slot and channel. The "audience" can start out much smaller than thought economical for broadcast or cable. Because the films are always available, the audience can build over time through word of mouth, search engines, and partnerships with special-interest, academic, and media sites.
- Folkstreams streams films in copyright. These are streamed at no cost because the filmmakers (1) want the renewed interest in their life work and (2) believe that there may be video and stock footage sales once the site become recognized as "the place" to find folk life material. Folkstreams functions like an easy to use stock footage house. For example, Tom Davenport sold footage from his "Born For Hard Luck" to the producers of the French feature film "Amalie".
- The archive is being held and maintained by the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Most of this archive is 16mm film --a stable and long-lived format which can be continuously adapted to the latest digital streaming schemes.
- 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.
- Like the Farm Security Administration photo collection at the Library of Congress and Folkways Recordings at the Smithsonian Institute, Folkstreams will define important aspects of our national culture. As the world culture becomes more homogenized, these films are important for our national memory. Folkstreams is like a cultural seed bank.
- 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 availability of film could be only incompletely documented or communicated by text.
- Since these documentary films have typically given great weight to what have been called "community scholars"-insiders, participants, the real virtuosos of the traditions shown-they give the viewers access to authorities they cannot find in academia and rarely find given voice in books. The films accordingly are extremely important social and aesthetic documents.
- The films are also valuable historical documents-not only because they take the viewers directly into social worlds (the work, play, struggles, and worship of often extraordinary ordinary people) now passing more and more into the historical past, but also because the films themselves are the products of historical movements and attitudes. They preserve the life of specific times and places and also embody the limitations and opportunities, the ideologies and insights of their makers.
- We want those who watch a film on Folkstreams also to be able to use the site as an introduction to fields new to them. Our goal is to have each film accompanied by helpful materials prepared by the filmmaker, folklorists, and others about the making of the film, the lives of the film subjects, the cultural traditions shown in the films, suggestions for readings and related websites where they can explore the material further.