Being a film buff, the months between November and February is usually an exciting time for me - when the film awards season is in full swing. This year, two of my favorite films in 2014 have been nominated for awards and even took home the Golden Globe earlier in January: Boyhood for Best Drama, and The Grand Budapest Hotel for Best Comedy. As fond as I am of these two films, there's another movie that also much deserves to bask in the spotlight this year - and it does. Selma, a feature film chronicling the three months in 1965 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. campaigned for equal voting rights, is an outstanding, important film in its own right.
At the Golden Globe earlier this month, Selma received four nominations: Best Drama, Best Director (Ava DuVernay), Best Actor (David Oyelowo), and Best Original Song ("Glory"). It took home the Best Original Song award. At the AFI Awards, Selma won Best Movie of the Year. For the Oscars coming up next month, Selma has also been nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Song.
Directed by the talented Ava DuVernay, the first African-American woman to win the 2012 Sundance Film Festival's Best Director award, Selma was filmed in Alabama and Georgia - at locations where a few of the real events actually took place.
"Selma" On Location in Alabama
THE EDMUNDS PETTUS BRIDGE in selma
Selma was shot on a tight 32-day schedule, four of which was actually spent in ... Selma, Alabama. The production was in its namesake town in June 2014 to film the movie's pivotal scenes at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the real marches took place in 1965.
It's hard to believe that Selma almost didn't make its way to Selma, Alabama for the shoot. Originally, the film was to be made solely in Georgia. That was until Kathy Faulk, Alabama Film Office commissioner, suggested to Selma's publicist that the movie should have at least a few scenes filmed in Alabama. After all, the key events of the story actually took place in Alabama. Once the location scout team had a chance to visit Montgomery and Selma, the decision to film in these two cities was a no-brainer. “They saw the Capitol and the bridge, and said, ‘We don’t have anything like that in Georgia,’” said Faulk.
The decision to film in Alabama turns out to be the right move for Selma. The movie is powerful and poignant film partly because it was shot at many of the real locations where history actually took place. The Edmund Pettus Bridge crossing the Alabama River is one such important film location. Named after a former U.S. senator and (can you believe it?) a Ku Klux Klan leader, the Edmund Pettus Bridge is a major back-drop in the movie. Selma’s "Bloody Sunday" scenes were filmed there with hundreds of local extras, some of whom actually participated in the real march on the bridge in 1965. The authenticity of the settings is palpable, visually and emotionally. "Once they visited here [Selma], they realized they had to film here," said Faulk.
The chance to film Selma in Selma was also important and meaningful to the director. “You’re in the real place, staging these scenes in places where black bodies have been broken and beaten and bloodied,” said DuVernay. “As a filmmaker with just four days to get it in, I was very focused on checking off my list of shots and getting things done, but also being very respectful to the people. Everyone on that bridge is a local to the community, and there’s some damage and scars there. It was a delicate four days, a very intense four days. But beautiful when I look back.”
Selma's film crew of over 700 people also includes Oprah Winfrey who plays Annie Lee Cooper, an African-American civil rights activist in the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement, and one of the producers of the film. To celebrate the movie and Martin Luther King Jr. holiday this month, Ms. Winfrey and many of the cast members of Selma marched along with hundreds of citizens across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the Sunday before Martin Luther King. Jr.'s day.
Because the bridge and nearby downtown business district in Selma still look almost the same as they did in 1965, today's Selma is a perfect film location for the movie's 1965 Selma. The main difference between the setting now and then is that many storefronts stand empty today and the government buildings are presently occupied largely by African-American officials. A much-needed change brought about by the Voting Rights Act.
THE STATE CAPITOL IN MONTGOMERY
In addition to Selma, the production was also in Montgomery for one day filming on Dexter Avenue in front of the State Capitol building. Alabama's State Capitol plays a major role in Selma as it stands in as the backdrop of one of the movie's final scenes in which Dr. King makes his speech after leading the epic 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march.
The pivotal march from Selma to Montgomery led by Dr. King was also portrayed beautifully and authentically in the film, down to almost every little detail such as Mrs. King's outfit. (See below two photos: the first one from Selma the movie, and the second one taken by photographer Spider Martin on the day of the march itself in 1965.)
Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department, saw Selma when the movie held its premiere in Montgomery earlier this month and said the film is a history lesson and a commercial for Alabama landmarks, especially the Capitol in Montgomery and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. "Cultural tourists like to visit important landmarks where history has been made," said Sentell. "This helps people understand the history once they've been to that location."
The Alabama Film Office is proud to host the filming of Selma in their backyard. "It is very unique to have a major box office film named after a city. We are very proud and excited that this film bears the name Selma and are hopeful it will generate curiosity seekers and tourism for the city and our state," said Faulk.
"Selma" On Location in Georgia
Selma was also in Georgia to shoot in and around Atlanta, Georgia Tech, Marietta Square, the Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art, and Rockdale County Courthouse in Conyers. The courthouse was the setting for the scenes in Alabama Federal Judge Frank Johnson's courtroom, where he rules on cases affecting the Civil Rights movement and ultimately approves the 1965 second march in Selma.
Georgia Tech campus was also busy with filming activities last summer as the production used the school's Academy of Medicine building as the backdrop for the courthouse's exterior scenes (see below screenshot).
Filming also took place in Newton County, at Flat Road, Airport Road, Gregory Road, Conyers Street, Brown Street, Ivy Street, Lee Street and Emory Street. For one of the interior scenes, the Newton County Historic Courthouse, located at 1124 Clark Street, was magically transformed into Hotel Albert for the movie. County Commission Chairman Keith Ellis said the county received from the production $5,500 in location fee, all of which goes toward the county employees fund.
A scene in Selma was also filmed at The Town House Cafe on Washington Street in Covington (also a film location for The Vampire Diaries).
If you've been to Marietta Square and Covington, Georgia, look closely enough at the movie and you may spot a few of their landmarks as they stand in for Selma, Alabama (such as the Newton County Courthouse in the background of the below first screenshot).
Having Selma filmed in Georgia was a huge boost for the state’s economy, bringing into Georgia over $10 million while the production was in the state. Selma hired approximately 1,900 cast, crew, and extras.
Georgia has been on the forefront of the film industry for the past few years providing film locations for notable productions such as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, The Walking Dead, The Vampire Diaries, Insurgent, Fast and Furious 7, to name just a few. In 2014 alone, film and television productions filmed in the state generated an economic impact of $5.1 billion.
“Not only has this industry created jobs and investment opportunities for Georgians, it also has revitalized communities, established new educational programs, tourism product and more,” said Governor Nathan Deal. “I will continue my commitment to growing this industry and to developing a film-ready workforce to meet the needs of the productions that are setting up shop in Georgia.”
The numbers are impressive. The film and television industry has created more than 77,900 jobs and $3.8 billion in total wages in Georgia. Approximately 23,500 Georgians work in the motion picture and television industry in the state, 8,188 of which are production-related employees.
“The film industry is a powerful economic generator and is creating jobs for Georgians as well as new opportunities to a highly skilled workforce,” announced Chris Carr, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, in a 2014 press release. “Since 2008, more than 90 companies have located in Georgia to support the industry. These new businesses are generating jobs and ensuring the industry’s sustainability in Georgia well into the future.”
For me, I finally had a chance to see Selma this week and love this beautiful, poignant, important film. For a movie about an epic event in American history, Ava DuVernay interprets and retells the story in a quiet, thought-provoking, and personal way. Selma reaches deep inside each viewer and stays with us long after. The chosen film locations of Selma also add much authenticity to the movie. Once you've seen it, it's hard to forget Selma.
Interested in Filming in Alabama or Georgia?
Visit the Alabama Film Office's website for more information on shooting your next production in Alabama.
Visit the Georgia Film, Music, and Digital Entertainment Office's website for more information on shooting your next production in Georgia.
PHOTO CREDIT: Banner image via Google.