When musicologist Doctor Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer) is passed over for a prominent teaching position, she leaves the city to visit her sister in the beautifully rugged mountains of Appalachia. It is here she discovers a wellspring of emotional tunes passed down from the original Irish and Scottish immigrants who settled in these parts. Determined to document the history of the songs, she immerses herself in mountain life, falls in love with a local musician, Aidan Quinn, and is profoundly changed by the generosity, strength, and freedom of the fiercely proud mountain people.
Hauntingly beautiful folk music and stunning Appalachian scenery take center stage in this winner of the 2000 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for outstanding ensemble performance. Musicologist Dr. Lily Penleric has a deep love of English folk ballads. After a humiliating failure to make full professor, she heads off to visit her sister's tiny school in rural Appalachia and finds herself in folk music central. Lily is entranced, but the locals are suspicious of the outlander's motivations. Issues of tolerance, clashing cultures, and Big Bad Men abound, but Songcatcher wisely focuses on the music. Janet McTeer does fine with the "repressed academic gets in touch with the earth" role, but her truly outstanding work is in revealing scholar Lily's rapture in her discoveries. McTeer leads a truly great cast, including the wonderful Pat Carroll, and a just-for-the-hell-of-it cameo by bluesman Taj Mahal. Songcatcher has a healthy respect for the mountain people it portrays, and an absolute reverence for their music. --Ali Davis