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Reel Folk: Cultural Explorations on Film Screening and Discussion Event

"Filming Cattle Drive" by Carl Fleischauer (1979). This image of William Smock is part of the Paradise Valley Folklife Project Collection (AFC 1991/021) at the American Folklife Center.

“Filming Cattle Drive” by Carl Fleischauer (1979). This image of William Smock is part of the Paradise Valley Folklife Project Collection (AFC 1991/021) at the American Folklife Center.

On September 29th and 30th, 2017, the Library of Congress is hosting “Reel Folk: Cultural Explorations on Film,” a series of free film screenings and discussions organized by the American Folklife Center. The films feature fascinating explorations of traditional culture in the U.S., focused particularly on cultural communities, traditional artists and their cultural practices in the Mid-Atlantic region. Several of the films’ directors and producers will be present to lead discussions on the films’ diverse ethnographic subjects, as well as the roles audiovisual documentation plays in understanding and portraying folklife and shared cultural experiences.

So, what’s playing?

Reel Folk kicks off at 7pm on Friday, September 29 in the Library’s Pickford Theater with a screening of “The Big Bang,” originally aired on PBS as episodes 1& 2 of American Epic. Producer/writer, Allison McGourty, and director, Bernard McMahon, will be on hand to discuss the film and answer audience questions. The PBS American Epic series chronicles the period from the 1920s through the 1940s when collectors for both commercial record companies and public institutions like the Library sought and recorded traditional American roots music, including ballad singers in the Appalachians, blues guitarists in the Mississippi Delta, gospel preachers across the south, Cajun fiddlers in Louisiana, Tejano groups from the Texas-Mexico border, Native American drummers, and Hawaiian musicians on the big island. Its second episode, “Blood and Soil,” contains extraordinary footage from the AFC’s collections, including a color clip of GRAMMY-winner Honeyboy Edwards shot for the Library by Alan Lomax in 1942.

Executive producers of PBS’ American Epic are Jack White, T Bone Burnett, and Robert Redford, all of whom appear in the series. It has won multiple awards, and is nominated for a 2017 EMMY Award. It could be that Allison McGourty and Bernard McMahon will be fresh off an EMMY win by the time they present “The Big Bang” at the Library!

On Saturday, September 30th, the event continues from 11:00am to 5pm in the Pickford Theater. The second day is devoted to the screening of eight documentary films on folk and traditional culture in the Mid-Atlantic region, the majority of which are presented by their filmmakers and producers (see the full schedule and descriptions here). Films include Muskrat Lovely, presented by filmmaker, Amy Nicholson, and featured champion muskrat skinner, Rhonda Aaron; If These Knishes Could Talk: The Story of the New York Accent, with commentary from filmmaker, Heather Quinlan; Let’s Get the Rhythm, with its co-producers, Steve Zeitlin and Irene Chagall; and Adelante, with filmmaker Noam Osband. There will also be several short ethnographic films from West Virginia and Maryland. In the coming weeks, be sure to check out Folklife Today for guest posts by and interviews with filmmakers and producers participating in Reel Folk!

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