Movies drop another layer of Folk Fest knowledge

A series of short documentary film screenings all weekend give you another way to learn about the 2015 Folk Fest performers.

The 2015 Richmond Folk Festival Documentary Film Series Schedule should fill you with joy! It’s been put together to correspond with and provide more information about the artists and custom-preservers that you’re going to be watching all weekend. Some actually follow the lives of the performers themselves. Check out our complete guide to the Folk Festival.

Let’s discuss the cost of going to see a movie in a theater these days. Two adults, that’s $20, with quite possibly another $20 on snacks that will just make you feel ill. Then maybe another $35 on a copay for your primary care physician the next day because your stomach has rebelled after the toxic combo of Junior Mints, popcorn, and Cherry Coke.

If that seems like a lot, that’s because it is! The Folk Festival’s film series is a $0 way to learn a lot about other cultures in an engaging and entertaining way. Whether you want to screen some films Saturday afternoon and then catch the corresponding performers on Sunday, you can do that. Or, you can wander around the festival grounds on Saturday and then spend Sunday learning more at the movies. It’s up to you, my friend! Most films are very short, but packed with info.

All screenings are at the Civil War Center at Tredegar. Descriptions come from Richmond Folk Festival, who, I imagine, got them from the films’ distributors.

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Dance of Tears — Cambodia

Jean-Daniel Bloesch, 1984

The poignant story of the Khmer Classical Dance Troupe and their flight from the mass killings carried out by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the “killing fields” era of 1975-1979. Onetime members of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, they journeyed first to a refugee camp in Thailand before finally settling in Wheaton, Maryland. Filmmakers follow the dance group, sponsored by the National Council for the Arts, as members share their stories of war, loss, and the fight to preserve their Cambodian culture in America. A highlight of this year’s festival is a reunion of master Cambodian dancers from across the U.S. organized by the Cambodian American Heritage Dance Troup, led by National Heritage Fellow Sam-Oeun Tes. The families of members of this troupe were among those who settled in Maryland’s Washington, D.C., suburbs after fleeing the Khmer Rouge.

  • Saturday, October 10th • 10:30 AM
  • 90 minutes

Hamper McBee: Raw Mash — Tennessee

Blaine Dunlap and Sol Korine, 1978

A candid portrait of Tennessee ballad singer, storyteller, and part-time moonshiner Hamper McBee. The film follows the inimitable Hamper as he plies his trade at this surreptitious art, socializes and sings. “Bill Malone” is one he wrote himself about the local constable who routinely arrested Hamper when he had too much to drink. Moonshine demonstrations and a display are featured at the Union Bank & Trust/University of Richmond Virginia Folklife Area.

  • Saturday, October 10th • 12:00 PM
  • Sunday, October 11th • 1:40 PM
  • 29 minutes

All the Past We Leave Behind — Richmond

National Park Service

Learn about Civil War sites and battlefields in the Richmond area.

  • Saturday, October 10th • 12:30 PM
  • Saturday, October 10th • 4:30 PM
  • Sunday, October 11th • 1:15 PM
  • Sunday, October 11th • 4:25 PM
  • 22 minutes

Biker’s Preacher — Mississippi

Novelette Brown, Jake Fussell, and Amanda Lillard, 2010

Reverend John Wilkins followed in the footsteps of his father, the Reverend Robert Wilkins, a legendary pre-war blues musician who developed his signature gospel blues sound after being called to the ministry. Like his father, John Wilkins straddles the sacred and secular, playing the blues but also preaching the gospel as a pastor that serves two congregations – Hunter’s Missionary Baptist Church in Como, Mississippi, and the King Riders Motorcycle Club, the latter earning him the nickname “Biker’s Preacher.” The film explores his growth as a bluesman and pastor, as well as the relationship between his blues and preaching. Includes footage of a service filmed at Hunter’s Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Reverend John Wilkins is appearing at this year’s festival.

  • Saturday, October 10th • 1:00 PM
  • Sunday, October 11th • 3:10 PM
  • 14 minutes

Spend It All — Louisiana

Les Blank, 1971

Acclaimed documentarian Les Blank travels through Southwest Louisiana’s bayous and prairies to create a rich portrait of French Louisiana’s Cajun community. Blank casts a wide lens, offering a well-rounded view into life in Cajun country, full of fishing, shrimping, and delicious cooking. Local musicians provide the film’s soundtrack, including such masters as the Balfa Brothers, Nathan Abshire, and Marc Savoy. Bruce Daigrepont, a renowned Cajun musician whose family has deep roots in the culture Blank presents in the film, is appearing at this year’s festival.

  • Saturday, October 10th • 1:15 PM
  • Sunday, October 11th • 2:25 PM
  • 43 minutes

Industrial Heart of the Confederacy: Tredegar Iron Works — Richmond

National Park Service

In the center of the festival site is the historic Tredegar Iron Works, the Confederacy’s most important industrial complex during the Civil War. In peacetime, it supplied the vast expansion of the railroad industry; in war it produced the largest number of cannon in the Confederacy.

  • Saturday, October 10th • 2:00 PM
  • Sunday, October 11th • 2:10 PM
  • 12 minutes

Sacred Steel: The Steel Guitar Tradition of the House of God Churches — U.S.A.

Bob Stone, 2001

Sacred steel is one of the most compelling forms of traditional music to have emerged in the late 20th century. Unknown to audiences beyond certain African American Holiness-Pentecostal churches until the early 1990s, the playing of pedal and lap-steel guitars to fuel worship and enliven the spirit has been central to worship in House of God churches since the late 1930s. Directed by the folklorist who helped bring this tradition to worldwide attention, this film take viewers into the churches where it is performed, and explores the development and history of the tradition through interviews with leading sacred steel artists. The Campbell Brothers, a groundbreaking sacred steel band prominently featured in the film, is appearing at this year’s festival.

  • Saturday, October 10th • 2:15 PM
  • Sunday, October 11th • 12:15 PM
  • 55 minutes

Counting Oysters — Eastern Shore

David Chung, 2011

A day on the Oyster Toad. The once abundant oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay is in serious decline due to overharvesting, sedimentation and water quality. Pooh Johnston and Wade Walker have been farming healthy oysters for over ten years on an estuary of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Their oysters are grown from seed to market-size in about two years. Oyster shucking demonstrations are scheduled for the Union Bank & Trust/University of Richmond Virginia Folklife Area.

  • Saturday, October 10th • 3:15 PM
  • 10 minutes

No Maps on My Taps: The Art of Jazz Tap Dancing — U.S.A. and Brazil

George T. Nierenberg, 1979

A refreshing and spirited perspective on the history of tap dancing as a vernacular American art form, particularly focusing on the 1930s, when performers became known for accompanying live jazz music. Drawing on movie clips and vintage photographs, the film presents tap as an expression of African American heritage and culture. Several renowned dancers are featured, with intimate portraits of three groundbreaking “hoofers” – Bunny Briggs, Chuck Green and Howard “Sandman” Sims. Brazilian tap dancer Leonardo Sandoval, who is performing at this year’s festival, is taking tap in exciting new directions by injecting it with vernacular rhythms and dance steps from his native country.

  • Saturday, October 10th • 3:30 PM
  • Sunday, October 11th • 4:50 PM
  • 58 minutes

Mask Tradition Reborn — Arlington and Mongolia

Gankhuyag Natsag and Zanabazar Gankhuyag

Gankhuyag Natsag (“Ganna”) and Zanabazar Gankhuyag (“Zana”) of Arlington, Virginia, made this film after participating in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program in 2011-12. Ganna, a master artist, is keeping mask making alive in Arlington’s growing Mongolian community. For the apprenticeship, he taught his son, Zana, how to make the masks, which are central to a Mongolian dance ritual. Father and son travel to Mongolia, work on the apprenticeship, and reflect on how the experience affected their lives and relationship. Ganna and Zana are demonstrating in the Union Bank & Trust/University of Richmond Virginia Folklife Area.

  • Saturday, October 10th • 4:55 PM
  • Sunday, October 11th • 12:05 PM
  • 8 minutes

From Mambo to Hip Hop: A South Bronx Tale — N.Y.C.

Henry Chalfant, 2006

The creative spirit of people living in the South Bronx has helped them not only persevere through difficult times but also contribute some of the most significant new musical sounds of the 20th century – sounds that have had a profound impact on pop culture worldwide. This film begins with the intersection several Latin currents – the large Puerto Rican migration to the city and the irresistible Cuban rhythms filling the streets – to create the New York salsa sound. In the wake of the ruinous wave of arsons there during the 1960s and ’70s, hip hop emerged from the ashes. This year’s festival features two artists, pioneering hip hop DJ Grandmaster Flash and Dominican bachata singer Andre Veloz, who emerged out of cultural communities in the South Bronx.

  • Saturday, October 10th • 5:05 PM
  • Sunday, October 11th • 3:25 PM
  • 56 minutes

The Other Way Back: Dancing with Dudley — New England

David Millstone, 2007

Musician and caller Dudley Laufman was the charismatic figure at the center of the revival of New England country dances in the late 1960s and ’70s. Without his work leading the Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra, today’s thriving contra scene would not exist. This documentary shines a light on the contributions of a man unknown to many contemporary contra dancers, using interviews with his peers alongside rare archival and contemporary dance footage. Dudley Laufman is appearing at this year’s festival.

  • Sunday, October 11th • 10:20 AM
  • 99 minutes
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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