Filmmaker Interview

POV: What interested you about Alan Lomax, and what inspired you to make this film?

Rogier Kappers: As a documentary filmmaker, one is always looking for subjects for films. I had always liked the music collected by Alan Lomax, and I said, "Well, maybe he would be a good subject for a film." I found out that no one had ever made a film about him, and because he is an inspirational figure, I decided to make one. And of course it's beautiful to travel around the same route that Lomax did, and try to find the music he collected, since the music is the reason I chose to make this film in the first place.

POV: What makes Alan Lomax so compelling as a character?

Alan Lomax, CBS television appearance, 1991

Alan Lomax, CBS television appearance, 1991

Kappers: I think Lomax is someone who believed in something, and as a result, everything else in his life had to disappear. He had a very strong vision of his own mission, and that makes him interesting as a person to make a film about.

POV: Lomax spoke with urgency about the need to preserve folk traditions before they vanished forever. Do you think those traditions continue to vanish now? Do you think that recent technology has made preserving those traditions any easier?

Kappers: At the time when Lomax made his plea for the preservation of folk music and indigenous traditions, mass media was really steamrolling over everything. It was very important to get an opposing voice. While that is still true nowadays, things have stabilized at a certain level. Folk music is a niche market but it will not disappear. There will always be people who love it, buy it and listen to it. In a way, it's easier to find and listen to folk music now because it's accessible via the Internet.

POV: In the film, ethnomusicologist Henrietta Yurchenco says that Lomax showed that it wasn't just rich people who were creating culture. His recordings made the nation aware that working-class people all over the world were creating beautiful, valuable culture. Do you think that this is something Lomax thought about as he recorded all of these different folk songs?

Kappers: Yes. That was what he was doing all his life — collecting this music and promoting it at the same time. He wasn't interested in collecting music just to put it into an archive. He wanted people to hear it. It was important for him to give this music back to the people themselves, so they could take pride in their own culture. Lomax was not an archivist — he was a promoter of folk music.

POV: Do you have any favorite Lomax recordings?

Kappers: I like the recordings of southern Italy, especially from Calabria and Sicilia. They are beautiful songs, and I'm really moved by them. I also like the music Lomax recorded in the southern U.S. in the 1930s and 1950s.

Much of the music Lomax recorded in Europe is really far from our western cultural tradition. It might be hard to understand it when you listen to it the first time, but as you get used to it you can feel it better. On the other hand, music from the southern U.S. states is so close to our musical traditions that it's "easier" to listen to that music the first time.

POV: What scenes did you shoot that didn't make it into the final cut of the film?

Kappers: You call it "killing your darlings" because scenes that you like very much don't make it into the film. But in the end, I was quite satisfied with the long version because every scene that I wanted in the film was there.

POV: Why did you decide to make part of the film by traveling the same route that Lomax did?

Kappers: I wanted to get the same feel that Lomax must have had himself when he was traveling. We made this journey in his footsteps. You can feel the same things that he must have felt 50 years ago. I would say that was a good approach for this subject and for this film.