The Best Folk Music Movies of 2013

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Looking for the best folk music movies of 2013? Here’s our top picks, including documentaries, concert films, and biopics.

Best Folk Music Movies of 2013

2013 was a great year for folk music movies. Here are our top three picks for the best folk music movies of 2013.

Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen Brothers’ latest film,”Inside Llewyn Davis,” is set in the early 1960s New York City folk music scene and follows the fictional character Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) as he tries to make it as a musician. The soundtrack for the film, which was produced by T-Bone Burnett, is fantastic, and features original songs written by Burnett and Marcus Mumford, as well as traditional folk songs. The Coen Brothers’ previous film about the music business, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” is also excellent, and features a great mix of traditional and original songs.

Ain’t in It for My Health

The title of this 2010 documentary refers to a line from one of Levon Helm’s songs, but it might as well apply to the film itself. Director Jacob Hatley was given unusual access to Helm during the last few years of the musician’s life, and the result is a candid, often poignant look at a man dealing with the physical ravages of cancer while still trying to make music. Though Helm’s health problems are never far from the surface, they don’t dominate the film; instead, we see him spending time with his family, going through his daily routine, and interacting with fans and friends (including Bob Dylan and Ronnie Hawkins). And, of course, we see him performing: in small clubs, at the annual Midnight Ramble concerts held at his Woodstock home, and even in his own living room. Ain’t in It for My Health captures Levon Helm at his most human, warts and all — which makes it one of the best music documentaries in recent years.

Another Day, Another Time

Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis is a concert film compiled from a performance at New York City’s Town Hall on September 26, 2013. The concert was presented by T Bone Burnett and Joel Coen and featured many artists associated with the Coen brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis, as well as others influenced by the American folk music revival of the 1960s. The concert was streamed live online and released as both a DVD and soundtrack album.

Honorable Mentions

2013 was a great year for folk music movies. Here are some honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the top 10 list.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a 2006 film directed by Ken Loach, set during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1922) and the Irish Civil War (1922–1923). It is a story about two brothers who join the republican resistance movement against the British Army. The film won the Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.

The film is noteworthy for its focus on folk music, which plays an important role in the film. Many of the songs sung in the film are traditional Irish folk songs, some of which date back hundreds of years. The Wind That Shakes the Barley features performances by well-known Irish folk musicians, including Liam O’Flynn, Andy Irvine, and Donal Lunny.


The film centers on a young Irish busker and a Czech immigrant who fall in love and build a life together as they strive to make their dream of making music come true. The film is set in Dublin and shot entirely on location. Once is a low-budget movie that was made for only $150,000, but it went on to gross over $20 million worldwide.

Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams is a 2013 documentary film about the Rwandan genocide and its effects on the country’s music and cultural scene. The film was directed by Florence Ayisi and produced by Ayo Faces Films.

The Rwandan genocide took place in 1994, when Hutu extremists killed more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The violence left the country traumatized, and its music scene was no exception. In the years after the genocide, many Rwandan musicians began using their music to address the country’s sorrows and celebrate its resilience.

Sweet Dreams follows several Rwandan musicians as they attempt to heal their nation through song. The film culminates with a major concert featuring some of Rwanda’s most popular musicians.

The film was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, and it won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

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