Sloan Foundation Film

Release Date



  • Maggie Greenwald


  • Janet McTeer
  • Michael Q. Davis
  • Michael Goodwin


  • Hamptons International Film Festival, 2000

A musicologist travels to Appalachia and makes the discovery of a lifetime. 

In 1907, Dr. Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer), a professor of musicology, is denied a promotion at the university where she teaches. Disappointed, she impulsively visits her sister (Jane Adams), who runs a struggling rural school in Appalachia. There, she stumbles upon the discovery a lifetime: a treasure trove of ancient Scots-Irish ballads, songs that have been handed down from generation to generation, preserved intact by the seclusion of the mountains. With the goal of securing her promotion, Lily ventures into the most isolated areas of the mountains to collect the songs and finds herself increasingly enchanted—not only by the rugged purity of the music, but also by the raw courage and endurance of the local people as they carve out meaningful lives against the harshest conditions. It is not, however, until she meets Tom (Aidan Quinn)—a handsome, hardened war veteran and talented musician—that she's forced to examine her motivations. Is the "Songcatcher," as Tom insists, no better than the men who exploit the people and extort their land?

Possible Topics

  • Technology used to preserve music and other forms of culture from our past
  • An anthropological look at what culture is
  • Issues raised in an outsider’s experience of an unfamiliar culture

Past Programs


The History of Musicology

Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, MI


The Science and History of Musical Instruments

Austin Film Society, Austin, TX

Notes on Notes

Egyptian Theatre, Coos Bay, OR


A conversation about ethnomusicology

Belcourt Theatre, Nashville, TN


Archiving music for future generations

Ross Ragland Theater, Klamath Falls, OR


The art of sound

The Gem, Bethel, ME