The first Newport Folk Festivals took place in 1959 and 1960 and were the result of a collaboration between Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein and Albert Grossman, who at the time were partners in music and artist management. After a few years’ hiatus and Wein and Grossman parting ways, the festival was reprised in 1963, only this time Wein enlisted the help of Pete Seeger. Seeger agreed on the condition that all the artists be paid the same fee of $50, regardless of their level of popularity. It would be a nonprofit venture, with the proceeds going toward the preservation and support of folk music.
Before Festival was released in 1967, Lerner had made a name for himself with both documentaries and commercials. A film commissioned by Yale University, Lerner’s To Be a Man (1966) played on PBS affiliate stations across the country and was featured in Time magazine. His commercial and industrial films for big companies such as Firestone and Gulf earned him enough money to purchase the 16 mm camera and audio equipment he needed to shoot Festival.
With Festival, instead of aiming to tell a story, Lerner set out to make juxtapositions that would create meaning for the viewer, adopting ideas about montage from Sergei Eisenstein’s essay “The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram.”
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