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Jamestown Settlement Film Portrays Convergence of Three Cultures in 1600s Virginia as Beginnings of the Nation



WILLIAMSBURG, Va.–At the same time expansive new exhibition galleries opened at Jamestown Settlement in October, 2006, a new introductory film premiered in the museum theater.  “1607: A Nation Takes Root” is the story of three cultures spanning three continents.

Produced by Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, the state agency that administers Jamestown Settlement, the film was funded by the Dominion Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Dominion, one of the nation’s largest energy companies.

The docudrama film provides an overview of the first two decades of America’s first permanent English colony and the cultures that converged in early 1600s Virginia, complementing Jamestown Settlement’s gallery and living-history exhibits.  In opening scenes depicting the natural beauty of 1607 Virginia, Powhatan Indians observe English ships on the horizon. The film flashes back to a meeting of Virginia Company investors in England where plans are being laid to establish a base in Virginia, then forward to a Powhatan Indian community, setting the stage for the landing of 104 English men and boys on the banks of the James River on May 14, 1607, and subsequent meeting of the two cultures.

The film chronicles events of Jamestown’s early years – trade and conflict between the English and Powhatans, the struggle of the colonists to survive, the leadership of John Smith and his permanent departure from Virginia in 1609, the installation of a military governor and martial law, and the marriage of Pocahontas, daughter of the Powhatan paramount chief Wahunsonacock, to John Rolfe in 1614, initiating a period of peace between the Powhatans and colonists.

The scene periodically shifts to London and Virginia Company officials, ever watchful of their investors’ interests, who discuss reforms such as land ownership and representative government to encourage economic growth and stability.

Jamestown Settlement film scene - Angolan village2.jpgLater the story moves to a village in the kingdom of Ndongo in Angola, on the west coast of Africa.  A woman seen in the village, “Angela,” is later shown as a captive of the Portuguese, waiting to be transported across the sea to Mexico.  The Portuguese ship carrying a human cargo of slaves was intercepted en route by English privateers, and 20-some of the Angolans were brought to Virginia, the first documented Africans in the colony.  Among them was Angela, known to live in Virginia in 1624.

The film concludes with the personal stories of some of those individuals “who struggled, persevered and laid the foundation of a new country.”

“1607: A Nation Takes Root” evolved over three years, beginning with the development of a conceptual plan.  Its director, Ernest Skinner, has a series of award-winning documentaries to his credit, including previous Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation productions “Voyage of the Godspeed” and “Jamestown: The Beginning.”

A team of Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation staff and consultants provided research information, wrote the script, cast the film, arranged for locations and scheduled filming.  At several stages, input was sought from museum constituencies.  The Virginia Council on Indians and Virginia tribal leaders reviewed the draft script and provided casting assistance.  Many of their suggestions were adopted, including revision of opening scenes featuring Powhatan Indians and a scene with Powhatan paramount chief Wahunsonacock and John Smith.  The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation’s Museum and Programs Advisory Council, a standing group of historians and educators, reviewed an early version of the film and made recommendations about the treatment of the Angolan culture and cultural intermediaries.  A “rough cut” was shown to visitors and staff in Spring 2006 for additional feedback.

Casting calls were held in 2004 at Jamestown Settlement and at the Chickahominy tribal center.  A total of 285 people – 17 with principal or speaking parts – appear in the film, narrated by Christopher Kent, a London-based actor whose career encompasses stage, screen and radio.

Filming was complete by late 2005.  High-definition video was chosen as the format to achieve the highest quality technically possible.  Locations ranged from Virginia to the Caribbean to the African country of Angola, where inhabitants of the village of Massangano, using traditional construction methods and materials, built a set depicting a 17th-century Ndongan village.

Agecroft Hall, a Tudor-period manor house in Richmond, was theJamestown Settlement film scene - Virginia Company.jpg setting for scenes depicting meetings of the Virginia Company.  Other Virginia locations were Jamestown Settlement, Historic Jamestowne, Chippokes State Park in Surry County, the Chickahominy Riverfront Park in James City County, and the Chesapeake Bay and James and Chickahominy rivers.  In addition to Jamestown Settlement’s Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery, the 17th-century ship re-creations Maryland Dove from Historic St. Mary’s City and Half Moon from New Netherland Museum in New York, as well as a shallop from Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, had roles in the film.

Final production work took place in 2006 with editing, selection of music, and recording of narration.

“1607: A Nation Takes Root” is shown daily in Jamestown Settlement’s 250-seat theater. The film was produced in two lengths – 23 minutes and 15 minutes – allowing for the adjustment of the number of showings daily to meet visitation needs.  The project cost $425,000.