Dr. Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer) is a highly respected and widely published musicologist in 1907, who is passed over for an academic position on account of her gender. Angry and disappointed, she decides to take some time off and visit her sister Elna (Jane Adams), who runs a school in Appalachia with Harriet (E. Katherine Kerr), another teacher.
Much to her surprise, Lily discovers that these poverty-stricken rural folk who are cut off from the modern world have integrated music into their lives with a naturalness and an ease that is nothing short of miraculous. Deladis (Emmy Rossum), a teenage orphan who is Elnas' ward, has memorized a group of Scottish and English folk ballads. Her rendering of these songs about love, loss, and death is breathtaking.
Propelled by a new mission to record and publish these songs, Lily is convinced that this project will win her the fame she so earnestly desires. When the cumbersome recording equipment arrives, the professor makes contact with Viney (Pat Carroll), who knows a veritable treasure trove of folk ballads. Tom Bledsoe (Aidan Quinn), Viney's grandson, doesn't like it that Lily is using his relatives for her own purposes. But over the course of the summer, his skepticism turns to love for this full-speed-ahead outsider.
Writer and director Maggie Greenwald (The Ballad of Little Jo) has done a marvelous job creating a diverse group of women characters who all get a chance to express themselves in one way or another. Best of all is the extraordinary folk music, much of it sung a cappella. These ballads go directly to the heart with their melodic simplicity and beauty. Don't miss Songcatcher, a truly remarkable and mesmerizing film.