All-American documentaries, free online

For the past half-century, since portable cameras and on-location sync sound became widespread, documentary filmmakers, generally working in obscurity, have been recording the wild back-road diversity of America. To preserve and distribute these works, both thrilling oddities and classics, the Website folkstreams.net has made itself an online open-access Smithsonian for documentary film.

One of its gems is Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison, by the not-at-all-obscure (and still living) musician-activist Pete Seeger; his wife, Toshi; their son Daniel; and the folklorist Bruce Jackson. The clip we’ve teed up for you documents black prison inmates on a work crew in Texas as they sing a slow, impossibly old tune and cut down trees. The film was made in 1966, but it might as well be 1906.

Of course, once word gets out, you can expect Moby to sample Work Songs for his next album — but you’ll know where he heard it first.

WATCH a four-minute clip from Work Songs in the RealMedia format.

WATCH a four-minute clip from Work Songs in the QuickTime format.

VISIT the Folkstreams Website

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All-American documentaries, free online