Career of ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax (1915-2002) gets duly respectful treatment in “Lomax the Songhunter,” a Dutch-produced doc that should score playdates on the fest circuit before global tube exposure. Helmer Rogier Kappers works hard to convey enthusiasm for his subject, a widely respected researcher who devoted most of his life to preserving folk music of various cultures. Even so, pic isn’t likely to grab auds not already curious about the subject.
Kappers indicates his somewhat discursive approach was driven in part by necessity: Lomax suffered a debilitating stroke during his final years, greatly hampering his ability to communicate during interviews shot at his Hollywood, Fla., home in 2001. Filmmaker relies heavily on expert testimony and archival material to trace Lomax’s role in preserving early performances by such notables as Pete Seeger and Huddie Ledbetter (aka Leadbelly) for the Library of Congress. But the bulk of the film focuses on Kappers’ tour of European sites — including remote Scottish islands and secluded Spanish villages — where, decades earlier, Lomax recorded locals performing their indigenous music. Filmmaker encounters a surprisingly large number of oldsters who, recalling young Lomax’s visits, offer repeat performances that are genuinely affecting.