Filming the Past at Colonial Williamsburg
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 2, Number 4, December 1972
- pp. 74-79
- Additional Information
FILMING THE PAST AT COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG By Arthur L. Smith The principal purpose ofThe Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the restoration and exhibition ofthe colonial capital ofVirginia. Supporting activities include research, publication, and audiovisual activities. The latter involves films, filmstrips, slides, records, et cetera, produced and distributed on a non-profit basis. Most of these materials interpret the eighteenth century. Although some purist scholars resist the notion ofrecreating life on the scene in historical restorations, visitors find such efforts helpful. Similarly, there are historians who resist filmed reenactments of history, especially those which attempt to represent famous persons or events. There has been somejustification for such opinion because there have been some very bad historical films produced. But on rare occasions television, educational, and entertainment organizations have acquitted themselves well. It should be noted that films made by historical organizations are held liable for accuracy to a greater degree than those made for entertainment. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has had an audio-visual program since 1951. During this period about twenty films have been produced. The operation is simple. A small permanent film crew is maintained (producer, director-editor, cameraman, sound man, electrician, and unit manager). Some films are made entirely by this crew but the option is always available to bring in additional crew members or an entire additional crew. Similarly, some scripts are prepared by staff and some contracted to outside writers. Original music scores are commissioned to outside talent. Production responsibility is always retained within the staffand no films are contracted entirely. Being at a great distance from an urban area, Colonial Williamsburg finds it economical (and convenient) to own production equipment, both 16mm and 35mm. All routine services such as laboratory work, original cutting, et cetera, are done on the outside. Procedures involving artistic decisions are the full responsibility ofthe permanent film crew and of management. In the opinion ofThe Colonial Williamsburg Foundation the most important element offilm reenactments is research. With proper research, good casting, careful directing and good writing, any professional film crew ought to be able to produce respectable films. But many film producers do not adequately prepare—usually for economic reasons. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has acquired an excellent organizational reputation for historical accuracy. As an authority on Virginia's colonial history, its films and publications are expected to represent not only truth in fact but also reason in conjecture. It is this combination of fact and conjecture that is the principal subject ofthis article. A community restoration such as Williamsburg offers a broad opportunity in film subjects. Colonial government, social life, business life, crafts, biography, military affairs, law, and education are representative ofthe broad spectrum. Usually several of the foregoing categories will appear directly or indirectly in a single film presentation. The research staffofColonial Williamsburg has experience in exploring every facet ofeighteenth-century life. In addition to some forty years of overall research, many research reports have been published—such as those on the role ofthe Negro in eighteenth-century Williamsburg and the economic role ofWilliamsburg. Specialized studies of cookery, archaeological investigations, and research on crafts have been or will be published. Current 74 research includes the role ofwomen in colonial Virginia, a new study ofthe lunatic asylum (America's first designated and built mental hospital-1773) in the nineteenth century, studies oftrade relationships , and ofthe College ofWilliam and Mary. Important future subjects include studies of governors and royal officials, Virginia during the Revolution, and a whole spectrum ofresearch as Colonial Williamsburg expands its period to the early nineteenth century. Frequently, a research project is initiated because of a practical need. Thus, for example, the acquisition of nearby Carter's Grove Plantation and its restoration problems required the expansion ofresearch to include not only the physical layout but also a total review of all matters relating to plantations in general and that plantation in particular. Types ofcrops and animals, patterns of cultivation, conversion of animals and crops into food, slavery, plantation life and management, craft operation-the list goes on endlessly. Subjects for film reenactments can sometimes be supported by existing research including full attention to the footnotes. More often, additional research of a very practical kind is required to fill the...