Colin Farrell
Colin Farrell stars in Terrence Malick’s The New World, shot in Virginia.

From mountains to oceans, large cities to small towns, modern buildings to historic architecture, Virginia has it all. As the Virginia Film Office prepares for the release of Terrence Malick’s The New World, a film about  the founding of Jamestown shot in and around the area, Communications Manager Mary Nelson spoke with MM about all the state has to offer.

Alexis Buryk (MM): Everyone knows that Virginia is for lovers—people who love nature, people who love history, people who love getting seafood from the Chesapeake Bay. But why is Virginia for movie lovers?

Mary Nelson (MN): Because we’ve got it all! Mountains, oceans, valleys, scenic outlooks, quaint historic towns, large cities and miles and miles of historic architecture and locations. Since the first English colony was founded here in 1607 through today, Virginia’s history is the history of America. Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields sit side by side with modern military installations and glass high-rises. Its proximity to Washington D.C. makes it the perfect place to shoot political-themed projects. And documentaries—it’s a documentarian’s paradise, with historic locations and experts to interpret them.

Basically, anything can be shot in Virginia. We don’t do deserts very well, but other than that, it’s pretty much all here.

MM: If someone knew Virginia only from the movies that have been shot here, what do you think their perception would be? What are some things about the state that the average person might not know?

MN: The opening scenes of Giant, shot near Charlottesville, showcase Virginia’s stately antebellum past, as do films like Sommersby, Gods and Generals, and Cold Mountain. No less than three films or television programs have shot here about the life of Abraham Lincoln because of the spectacular period architecture. A great irony, since Richmond was once the capital of the Confederate States of America!

It’s impossible to talk about Virginia’s historic locations without talking about The New World, Terrence Malick’s newest film about the founding of Virginia’s Jamestown Settlement, shot only a few miles from the site of the original fort. Malick was thrilled that so much of the land near the site had not yet been developed, and therefore presented locations that were nearly unchanged from the way the area looked in 1607.

Virginia’s proximity to Washington D.C. makes this a perfect place to shoot films and television projects with political themes. “The West Wing” and “The Wire” have both shot in northern Virginia and the hit ABC television show, “Commander in Chief” shot its pilot in Richmond. Other films using Richmond as D.C. have included Dave, The Contender, The Jackal and GI Jane. Other major feature films such as The Pelican Brief, In the Line of Fire and The Silence of the Lambs have also made use of the D.C. connection in northern Virginia. New Dominion Pictures in Petersburg, Virginia has a replica of the Oval Office, making it even easier to shoot D.C. in Virginia.

But, it’s not all about big cities. One of the most popular films shot in Virginia is Dirty Dancing, which was filmed at Mountain Lake Resort. Another perennial favorite is What About Bob?, shot at Smith Mountain lake.

MM: Looking beyond the physical, what are some of the reasons a moviemaker would choose your state as a location for their project?

MN: Virginia has a lot to offer any moviemaker. We have more than 8,500 people working in all aspects of the industry, including actors and crew. There are numerous post-production houses throughout the state that make it easy to take care of any of the editing, sound or film needs of the shoot. In fact, the northern Virginia area, which is known for its advanced high-tech companies, houses numerous state-of-the-art post houses. The Hampton Roads area (the areas around Virginia Beach and Norfolk) has New Dominion Pictures, one of the largest producers of cable programming in the country, which creates such programs as “FBI Files,” “New Detectives” and “Navy SEALS” to name just a few.

In addition, you may be aware that MovieMaker Magazine named Virginia one of the 10 best states for independent filmmaking in 2004, and in 2005 the city of Charlottesville was mentioned as one of the areas to watch in the future. There’s a reason for this. Virginia’s independent filmmaking community is growing and thriving throughout the state, fueled by film programs at state universities and such grassroots groups as Flicker, Project Resolution and Yellow House, all of which support the work of new and emerging filmmakers.

MM: Southern hospitality is generally expected, but why is Virginia in particular a welcoming spot to film? How does the Virginia Film Office bridge the gap between the community and the moviemakers who come to shoot here?

MN: People who film in Virginia universally comment on the way they feel helped and supported, not only by the Virginia Film Office but also by the community at large. People are ready, willing and able to help make the shoots a success and producers often cite this as the reason they want to come back and make more projects in Virginia. The Film Office is one of the most proactive in the country. Staff members are experienced, tenacious and hate to take no for an answer—a real asset when [you’re] trying to put a film together.

MM: What are some of the Virginia-shot films you’re most proud of?

MN: We’re proud of most of what gets done here. There are lots of documentaries shot in the state and these are usually labors of love—both for the filmmakers and for the staff. The New World was perhaps one of the most important films shot in Virginia, as in it Virginia plays itself—we aren’t doubling for anything else. Terrence Malick’s exquisite cinematography shows the beauty and wonder of Virginia landscapes and it tells a story that is quintessentially Virginian. We were particularly thrilled to have this film, as it comes at a time when the state is preparing for a large, 18-month long commemorations of the original landing at Jamestown in 1607. What could be more wonderful than to have Terrence Malick introduce Jamestown to a wider audience through his film?

MM: What can we expect to see of Virginia in future films?

MN: HBO has announced that it’s producing John Adams, a mini-series based on David McCullough’s biography of the nation’s second president. HBO was here a couple of years ago to film Iron Jawed Angels, an amazing piece about the woman’s suffrage movement at the turn-of-the century, starring Hilary Swank. We couldn’t be happier to have HBO back with us again. They are known for producing exceptional and exciting work, and it’s always interesting when they’re in town.

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