The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Film will feature Rappahannock River
BY RUSTY DENNEN
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Oscar-nominated filmmaker and producer Bayley Silleck has trekked the globe during his decades-long moviemaking career, with six IMAX films to his credit on topics ranging from dinosaurs to the cosmos.
The next project for Silleck, 72, who spent summers during his boyhood in Fredericksburg and now lives in the city, is a little closer to home.
He and his production company, Blue Mountain Film Associates Inc., are working with Friends of the Rappahannock on a film about the river. It’s still in the preproduction, fundraising and planning mode, but it could be ready in about a year, he said.
“People love the river for different reasons. Some like it for fishing, some for canoeing, shooting rapids. Others love it for the human history. The film needs to appeal to all those different tastes and interests,” he said in a telephone interview from his second home in New York.
Silleck’s interest in the Fredericksburg area, and the river, go way back.
His grandmother Agnes Wallace owned Clearview Farm in Stafford County. His mother, Katharine Wallace, who married a New Yorker, would bring him to the farm every summer.
“I learned how to drive a car, shoot a .22 and chop wood,” he said of those visits. Part of his time was spent with buddies down on the river.
“We used to go down and poke around under the Falmouth Bridge,” he recalled recently. “They told us we shouldn’t go down there, but we did anyway.”
There, during the mid-1940s and early 1950s, he saw V-shaped stacks of rocks used by Native American fishermen. “And I remember that Clearview [farm] really had a clear view” at the time.
“You could sit on the front porch and see these enormous thunderstorms come down the river.”
His grandmother would tell stories passed down from the Civil War. He got an early appreciation of the beauty and history of the Rappahannock and its environs that would resurface in 2009 when Silleck and his wife, Joan, decided to move from Greenwich Village in Manhattan to Fredericksburg.
Joan, he said, had been in town for a funeral.
“Before getting on the train, we were driving around and there’s this ‘For Sale’ sign on lower Caroline. We looked at each other and thought it might be a great thing to live [here].”
FILMING THE RIVER
They sold their New York condo and bought the house. Among the neighbors they met were Rebecca Hanmer, who serves on the FOR board.
Over dinner one night, Silleck asked Hanmer whether anyone had done a film about the river. The answer was no.
“I thought, gosh, maybe we should make one.”
Six months ago, Silleck met with the board to float the idea.
“We kicked it around, and what jumped out was an amazing opportunity to have a high-quality film about the Rappahannock done, relatively inexpensively,” said John Wack, a board member leading the project for FOR.
He said the board weighed in with lots of questions, the first being whether there was a need for such a film.
“We spent a few meetings talking about it, different avenues and venues to be presented,” he said. “By the time we finished, we realized there were a lot of potential uses, depending upon the audience.”
He said board members researched Silleck and his work. They watched a couple of his films including his 1996 Oscar-nominated “Cosmic Voyage” documentary short film and his 2007 short film, “Dinosaurs Alive!”
Silleck himself offered a big incentive: donating his time and his company’s equipment to cover about 65 percent of the cost of the film, estimated to be about $91,000. FOR then began approaching prospective donors to cover the rest.
To date, FOR has received more than $22,000 in pledges from individual donors. It still needs another $7,000 to start production.
Silleck produced a minute-long clip at the Rappahannock’s headwaters near Chester Gap to show donors what was possible.
Wack was impressed.
“I’m very much of a visual person,” Wack said. “I thought it would be very compelling for people to see with their eyes, rather than hear someone talking about it—and through that, understand the issues facing the river.”
Rebecca Kurylo, FOR’s development director, said the film will help people connect with the notion that the river needs nurturing and protection.
“When you go out to do presentations, it’s hard for us to express it” through words, pamphlets and still pictures. “Seeing it visually will be a much better impact.”
Silleck said he will focus on many aspects of the river—environment, culture, history, for example—from the headwaters to its mouth on the Chesapeake Bay.
He expects to have two high-definition versions—one of about 30 minutes to show in theater settings, and a shorter one of about 10 minutes for FOR to use for presentations and in schools.
The longer version could be in a Blu-ray format. The film will chronicle a year in the life of the river.
“It’s really important that everybody understand the role the river’s played throughout history, and in sustaining everyday life,” Silleck said.
“One of the things people want to see is the Rappahannock in the human context.”
SIDEBAR: FILMMAKER BRINGS GLOBAL EXPERIENCE TO LOCAL PROJECT
BY RUSTY DENNEN
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
A trip to Italy and a job at a newspaper there led to Bayley Silleck’s film career.
A graduate of Deerfield Academy and Princeton University, Silleck was a Navy officer during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. After leaving the Navy, he and his wife, Joan, an attorney, took a trip to Europe, where they wound up staying for 11 years.
Silleck worked for the Rome Daily American as a reporter, then became a film critic and deputy news editor. He interviewed “any American who came through Rome,” he said, among them, actor Edward G. Robinson and statesman Averell Harriman.
In 1967, Silleck got a fateful call from a Hollywood producer, snagging a job as a publicist with Embassy Pictures’ Rome office. One of his first assignments was for a film featuring Marcello Mastroianni and Raquel Welch.
“I did that for four years, then got tired of movie-star egos and got interested in documentaries,” Silleck said. He was based in London for five years and worked all over Europe.
He worked in Ireland on a film with David Lean, who directed the 1965 classic “Dr. Zhivago,” and later, with director John Huston.
“I saw how great directors directed,” he said. After Silleck and his wife returned to the states, he worked on documentaries for the United Nations and commercial clients, just as the IMAX industry was taking shape. IMAX Corp. of Canada pioneered large-screen, immersive theater technologies.
He saw an early IMAX film, “To Fly,” at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.
“I was blown away,” he said. He got a job producing a sequel to the film, “On the Wing,” about the history of flight, in 1980.
“It was awesome what you could put on the screen to convey that much sharpness and detail.”
Silleck has written, directed and produced more than 30 films. Several focus on human interaction with the environment and sustainability.
In 1982, he directed “Energy! Energy!” a documentary short film for that year’s World’s Fair in Knoxville. Bayley founded Blue Mountain Film Associates in 1987, specializing in science documentaries in the IMAX format.
His 1992 film, “Concerto for the Earth,” uses the London Symphony Orchestra to show man’s toll on the planet’s ecology.
For his latest project, a film on the Rappahannock River, Silleck wants to take to the air.
“One of the things I’d like to do is some extraordinary helicopter photography, from one end of the river to the other,” he said.
WANT TO HELP?
Friends of the Rappahannock for years has been interested in using a film to tell the story of the river, but nothing’s come together—until now.
Production could begin soon on two versions of a high-definition film—one for a theater setting, and one for its educational programs and presentations. It’s expected to cost more than $90,000 and will take about a year to complete.
FOR still needs to raise about $7,000 toward its share of the production costs.
ON THE NET
For more information, visit Friends of the Rappahannock’s website, riverfriends.org.
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431