By Nia Simone McLeod
When you wonder about filmmaking capitals of the United States, your mind may immediately go to cities like Hollywood, New York City, and Atlanta. But, contrary to popular belief, Richmond has been home to a plethora of blockbuster movies and television shows in recent years. Virginia even has an entire office specifically centered around growing Virginia’s presence in the film industry: The Virginia Film Office. In light of the brand new The Walking Dead spin-off filming in Richmond later this year, let’s take a walk down memory lane and look at some Virginia landmarks that have made their worldwide debut in a feature film or popular television show.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, the historical drama Lincoln chronicles the last months of Abraham Lincoln’s life as he tries to get the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the 13th amendment. Virginia was the main setting for this Academy Award-winning film, as Richmond, Petersburg, and other areas were featured. Some of the recognizable Virginia sights in the movie are the Virginia State Capitol Building, the Virginia Repertory Theater, and the Petersburg Farmers Market. The Virginia State Capitol building is often used by many Hollywood movies as a stand-in for the White House.
Cold Mountain, directed by Anthony Minghella, is a film surrounding the events of the Civil War that stars Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger. Even though the movie was set in Virginia, a large portion of the film was filmed in Romania. This is to accurately reflect the wide countrysides that encompassed that area at that time period. But, during important periods in the film, the sights of Richmond were showcased such as Belle Isle State Park and Carter Grove’s Plantation.
Showtime’s hit television series Homeland took to the streets of Virginia for the show’s seventh season. Homeland stars Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison and chronicles her life as a CIA operations officer. In Homeland, sights throughout Richmond are easy to spot including The Jefferson Hotel, the Virginia State Capitol, and the Fan. The production of the Showtime series said that they chose Virginia to film in because the state has a “film-friendly environment” and a “versatility on screen”.
The 1980s classic dance film Dirty Dancing stars Jennifer Gray and the late Patrick Swayze. The film chronicles a teen’s vacation with her parents at a resort, where a burgeoning romance between her and one of the resort’s dance instructors begins. The lodge and cabins where the film took place were filmed at the Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, Virginia. At Mountain Lake Lodge, there is also a memorial stone dedicated to Patrick Swayze, who passed away from complications of pancreatic cancer in 2009.
Directed by Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips is a retelling of the true story of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking. During this incident, Captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage in the Guardafui channel (an oceanic waterway near Eastern Africa) by pirates. A portion of Captain Phillips was filmed in Virginia, partly due to Norfolk’s heavy Navy association. Familiar sights such as the Naval Station Norfolk and the USS Truxtun (which has a homeport of Norfolk) were featured in the movie. The movie then went on to receive high critical acclaim and was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, for Barkhad Abdi, who played the convicted Somali pirate Abduwali Muse.
Starring, produced, and co-written by Sasha Baron Cohen, Borat is a satirical mockumentary film that chronicles the life of Borat Sagdiyev. Sagdiyev is a fictitious Kazakh journalist who travels all across the United States filming his interactions with different Americans. One of Sagdiyev’s adventures brings his team to Virginia, where he visits a rodeo. This rodeo takes place in the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Virginia. The city hosts yearly rodeo events, entitled the Salem Stampede. Borat’s antics caused such a ruckus during the event, that the actor almost caused a real-life riot.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Directed by the explosive Michael Bay, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is the sequel to the uber-popular blockbuster film Transformers. This film is centered around Sam Witwicky, played by Shia Labeouf, who is dead set in the middle of a war going on between the Autobots and the Decepticons. One of the film’s pivotal scenes takes places in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
Evan Almighty, a spin-off of the Jim Carrey-film Bruce Almighty, stars Steve Carrell and turns the biblical story of Noah’s Ark on its head. The film’s instrumental scene, involving the ark, was filmed in Crozet, Virginia. Even though the scene was largely made with CGI (computer-generated imagery), the ark was built life-size. When the ark was finally finished, it stood 50 feet high, 80 feet wide, and 260 feet long. This ark, along with the scene’s hectic reimagining in CGI, made the film the most expensive comedy film ever at the time of its production. This scene is also the most expensive scene to be shot in Virginia.
Loving chronicles a moment that was instrumental in the history of the Commonwealth: the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court Decision Loving vs. Virginia. During this decision, the Supreme Court invalidated state laws that had prohibited interracial marriage. The entirety of this film takes place in Virginia; in turn, there is a plethora of Virginia localities that were showcased in the film including the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, the Supreme Court of Virginia, and the Old City Hall.
Written by and starring Damon Wayans, Major Payne is a comedic film that is centered around Major Benson Winifred Payne’s journey from the military to a military school in Virginia. The Miller School of Albemarle in Charlottesville, Virginia is the main setting of the film. Both the interior and the exterior of the building can be seen in the film.
As Virginia’s strong film history is very present, evidenced by the popularity of films on this list, the future of filmmaking in Virginia can only lead to bright things.