Folkstreams is not just a Wunderkammer of American folk traditions captured on film. It’s also an online repository for folk films themselves, whose weird lengths and non-mainstream obsessions limited their chances of widespread distribution, while ensuring that the majority of their makers would toil in oblivion.
The archive is exceedingly democratic. Browse by region or general subjects such as religion, rural life, and custom/dress. Household names such as B.B. King and Grandma Moses exist alongside snake handlers (Gretchen Robinson and Stan Woodward’s People Who Take Up Serpents) and disabled tattoo artist Stoney St. Clair, the subject of Alan Govenar’s irresistible 1981 Stoney Knows How. Admirers of the form will be glad to know that the archive is also searchable by filmmaker and distributor.
Any one of these short films could provide a folk remedy antidote to a case of acute digital overload. I’d also suggest succumbing to the archivist’s Netflix-style, viewing-history-based recommendations (“If you liked Painted Bride you may also like Mosquitoes and High Water.” Think of it as it is a do-it-yourself doc fest on autopilot, the sort of once-in-a-blue-moon programming you’d be lucky to catch, perpetually playing on demand.
The clip above comes from the film Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen.
- Ayun Halliday is doing her bit to keep zines alive within the realm of American folk culture.