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The Song Collector

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The Song Collector

Saving the songs — and stories — of the Ladakh, a mountain region in Indian Himalayas.

Airs May 28, 2017 at 5:00 p.m.

Available for streaming May 28, 2017 – August 27, 2019.

Deep in the Indian Himalayas lies Ladakh, one of the more sparsely populated regions on the globe. For thousands of years, the people of Ladakh were isolated from the larger world and developed a rich cultural heritage free from outside influence. All that changed in the 20th century, and now, as Ladakh modernizes, that heritage — including centuries-old folk songs — is rapidly being lost. The Song Collector tells the story of famed singer Morup Namgyal’s attempt to save the songs of his people before they disappear forever.

Watch a trailer

Modernization has taken much from the Ladakhi. For 1,000 years, the people of the Ladakh region developed a rich and vibrant culture closely tied to Tibetan Buddhism; ancient customs, traditions, stories, song, and dance were passed down from generation to generation. But today, Ladakh is quickly losing the cultural traditions that make the region unique. Folk songs, in particular, are imperiled and The Song Collector tells the story of famed Ladakh singer Morup Namgyal and his attempts to preserve Ladakhi culture and songs for future generations.

Namgyal is often credited with starting the movement to save Ladakh’s cultural heritage — and he’s been doing for over half a century. In the 1960s, Namgyal walked from village to village, performing for local people and telling the region’s stories through song. After seeing that Ladakhi children were unaware of their own history, he helped found a school that has educated youth, teaching them their language and passing down traditions for over 40 years.

But Namgyal is not stuck in the past. He acknowledges that the development of modern science, medicine, roads, cars and homes have also given the Ladkhi a more comfortable life. Using both contemporary and archival footage, The Song Collector is about the inevitable tension between development and tradition, and about one man’s lifelong mission to preserve an ancient culture — and his growing realization that modernization may be the key to saving his people after all.

About the filmmaker

Erik Koto first discovered a love for the Himalayas on a 2,000-mile bike tour across Pakistan and Western Tibet in 2001. He returned to the Himalayas in 2008, when he traveled to Ladakh to produce a film for the non-profit Lamdon School. At that time, he was introduced to Morup Namgyal, a Himalayan folk singer who would become the subject of The Song Collector.

During the six years he spent shooting The Song Collector, Koto also produced fundraising films for multiple non-profit organizations operating in Ladakh. He lives and works in Seattle, where he is active in the local documentary community, and he has served two terms as a board member of 911 Media Arts, a non-profit organization dedicated to film-making and video art.