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July 6, 2021 · OPINION

Shawn and Zach Nicholls helped Folkstreams succeed

By Tom Davenport

The recent news coverage neglected to mention how much owes to the work of my long-time assistant, Shawn Nicholls from Delaplane.

We met at a film festival at Highland School, where her 13-year-old son Zach was a student interested in filmmaking. Zach took on the task of making trailers for the long-form documentaries that we stream on Folkstreams. He developed into a talented filmmaker, later went on to graduate from William & Mary and now he writes books about sharks under the pseudonym of “Dr. Jaws.”

When he began to work for me, Zach was too young to drive to my studio, and I got to know his mother Shawn, and she, me. She was both practical and entrepreneurial and had a terrific curiosity about the films and folklife that Folkstreams was documenting. I asked her if she could become my part-time assistant, helping me track down films and filmmakers from a master list that folklorists Dan and Beverly Patterson had made.

In the early days of Folkstreams, the filmmakers, who had made their living making films, were leery about streaming their work for free on Folkstreams. But as the years passed — Shawn and I worked together on Folkstreams for over 15 years — Shawn would keep records of her correspondence with the filmmakers and circle back with another request.

During this time the world of media was changing. VHS and later DVD sales dried up. Like me, the filmmakers were getting older. She worked with me to convince these independent artists to agree to put their work on Folkstreams.

Lately, when we started the film on the lynching of Shad Thompson, Shawn became the chief researcher for the project.

The Folkstreams project is mature now, and Shawn has moved on. She and her husband Louis run the Front Royal golf course, an enormous challenge during the unsettled COVID times, but that enterprise couldn't have better leadership.
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