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Bringing local history to life

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Park's short films feature local actors

By Jane Alford

Jane Alford jalford@thelancasternews.com Combine about a dozen local volunteer actors in colonial dress and a film crew armed with small video cameras and what do you get?

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Four beautifully shot mini-films that bring to life our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, who was born and spent his youth in this area, and highlight the park that bears his name.

The Friends of Andrew Jackson State Park held a grand film review July 12 to introduce the four mini-documentaries on the young Jackson and the Revolutionary War history of the Waxhaws area.

Attendees were able to see the films and meet some of the local actors, including Wendy Duncan, AJ Park Ranger Kirk Johnson, park interpreter Laura Ledford and Clayton Massey.

“This documentary is so great!” said Jane Massey, former president of the AJ Friends. “We’ve been pushing for this since before the Friends group (began).

The museum in Waxhaw has had a short movie on Andrew Jackson and the Waxhaws for a long time.

“We needed this – the park, the community and the county.”

Each film is two to four minutes long.

“Birthplace” deals with the controversy over the seventh president’s actual birthplace, which both Carolinas claim.

“War in the Waxhaws” depicts the Buford Massacre on May 29, 1780, in which 113 retreating American soldiers were killed, 150 wounded and another 53 captured. It served to rally the American troops against the British.

“April to June 1781” shows a pivotal period in Jackson’s life, when after joining the colonial militia at age 13 with his brother, Robert, he was captured by the British and lost both his brother and mother in the space of a few months.

“Park Orientation” focuses on the state park’s amenities, including Anna Hyatt Huntington’s sculpture of a young Jackson astride a horse, and shows candid scenes from this year’s Andrew Jackson Birthday Celebration. There are also four “Learn Mores,” which are static screens with more information on the birthplace controversy, Buford’s Defeat, Elizabeth Jackson’s final advice to her son and the Battle of Hanging Rock. The films are available on a touchscreen in the park’s museum.

Three of them are on the park’s website, www.southcarolinaparks.com/andrewjackson, as well.

“The most-asked question is ‘where was he (Andrew Jackson) really born?’ so that’s on the website now,” Ledford said.

Jill Marshall, president of the AJ Friends group, said the films will have broad appeal to both children and adults.

Ledford said she believes they will help capture children’s attention during school field trips and help them to relate to young Andrew Jackson better. The films were made by Winikur Productions of Boston. 

Producer Ken Winikur and cinematographer Jeremy Leach filmed them in five days in late March, right around the Andrew Jackson Birthday Celebration, along with help from four film students from the University of North Carolina Charlotte and Winthrop University. The scenes were filmed at sites in Lancaster County, including the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Larkspur Ranch in Indian Land (where the battle scenes were shot), Hanging Rock and the Buford Battleground, as well as at Kings Mountain State Park and the Museum of the Waxhaws in Union County, N.C.

“I almost can’t believe it. It’s us, but it looks so good,” Ledford said.

“It was a lot of fun and I was impressed by how everyone - besides me - knew so much about the history,” said Wendy Duncan, who plays Andrew Jackson’s mother, Elizabeth, in the scene where his father dies. “But I had no idea making a movie was so boring. I just can’t be that sad five times.”

Visitors applauded the quality of the films, which Ledford said were shot with a small digital camcorder with some editing done on cellphones.

“Very professionally done,” said Larry McCullough, while Peggy Little praised the “beautiful color.”

Ledford said the whole project cost $25,880, which came from a large bequest the park received last fall. She said the project had been on the park’s wish list since 2007.

“We are not sure if she (the benefactor) was an official member of the Friends group (probably not), but she has shown by her action and deeds that she was definitely a friend of AJ and the gift she left is now going allow the park to impact visitors for a long time and we are very grateful for her caring about AJ so much that she remembered AJ in her will,” said Mark Davis, SCPRT Lake Region chief. “AJ impacted her and she has now afforded AJ the opportunity to impact many more.”

Friends present awards

The Friends group presented two awards during the film review event. Friends President Jill Marshall presented Cindy McDougal with the group’s Volunteer of the Year award. Marshall said McDougal, whose been with the Friends about a year, took on the task of cooking the food the group sold at the annual Birthday Celebration, which increased its revenue. This was the first year the group provided the food, which vendors have done in the past. “Not only did she cook, but she brought six or seven people to help her,” Marshall said. Marshall presented Clayton Massey with the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Hugh Jackson fighting and dying in the park’s new films. “His acting is so good in this that his own mother did not recognize him,” Marshall said. Massey, who usually plays a dying soldier in the park’s vignettes, said in this one, he actually got to play dead. “Clayton plays dead extremely well,” Marshall said.