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News Release

For immediate use 

Sept. 27, 2005 -- No. 448

Documentaries on blues, cowboys,
more live anew on

CHAPEL HILL ó Once consigned to dusty film canisters and dark library shelves, some rare American films are seeing new life through a project by three University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill organizations and Folkstreams Inc.

The groups have collaborated to create, a video-streaming Web site built as a national preserve of documentary films about American folk and roots culture.

The hard-to-find films available through represent some of the most significant and artistic documentaries of the 20th century, and they give voice to the arts and experiences of diverse American groups.

They are accompanied on the Web site by background materials that give context to both the films and their subjects. The films are protected by copyright, but use of the site is free.

"Heretofore, much good independent film work was like the tree falling in the wilderness with no one to hear," said Tom Davenport, Folkstreams project director and independent filmmaker. "With the Internet and video streaming, we will be able to make a national park from this wilderness where everyone can come and freely hear and see what we have labored on for so long and with such enjoyment."

UNC collaborators on are, a free public library of digital material on the Internet, which provides server space and digital streams for folkstreams; the Southern Folklife Collection in Wilson Library, which maintains the film and tape archives; and the School of Information and Library Science.

School faculty members will guide the project, drawing on their experience with ongoing research on digital video preservation. School students have completed digitization, metadata input and reporting on the project.

Folkstreams Inc. is a nonprofit Virginia organization that seeks to preserve significant documentaries and videos about American traditional culture. Its board of directors includes Paul Jones, a clinical associate professor in two UNC schools -- Information and Library Science and Journalism and Mass Communication Ė and director of offers films including "Cowboy Poets," representing three aspects of the cowboy poetry tradition, and "The Angel That Stands By Me: Minnie Evansí Paintings," a portrait of the African-American visionary artist from Wilmington.

Also included is "Give My Poor Heart Ease," a 1975 account of the blues experience through the recollections and performances of B.B. King, James "Son" Thomas, Shelby "Poppa Jazz" Brown, James "Blood" Shelby, Cleveland "Broom Man" Jones and inmates from the Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman Farm.

"Although many of the films have won film festival awards and critical acclaim, they are notoriously hard to distribute and donít fit easily into mass-market outlets including movie theaters, video stores and broadcast and cable television," Jones said. " makes these films easy to find and view."

Currently the site streams 48 films by some of Americaís best-known independent documentary filmmakers, including Dr. William Ferris, senior associate director of UNCís Center for the Study of the American South. Ferris also is Joel Williamson professor of history and an adjunct professor in the folklore curriculum.

Others whose films are on are Les Blank, John Cohen, Tom Davenport, Paul Wagner, Michal Goldman and Susan Levitas.

"This really is just the beginning," said Davenport. "We have already identified 138 films that we want to add to the collection, and our goal is that folkstreams will continue to build and grow over time."

The project has been supported by a $95,000 National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences since October 2004. also receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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School of Information and Library Science contact: Wanda Monroe, 919-843-8337,
News Services contacts:
Print, L.J. Toler, (919) 962-8589; broadcast, Karen Moon, (919) 962-8595