By Scott P. Yates, The Progress-Index
DeWitt — On a blustery March day last weekend a group of actors huddled together wrapped in blankets on picturesque farmland between filming scenes for the latest film production to take place in the Tri-Cities.
Guiding this cast and crew on set Saturday was local historian, writer and filmmaker Tamara Eastman. She gave direction with little reference to written notes and worked efficiently as inclement weather threatened to halt filming outside. Eastman appeared to have her entire film completely memorized — reciting dialogue and giving directions for blocking and camera angles one scene after another.
Eastman was filming scenes from her production, “Insurrection,” on a farmland that appeared as though it has been preserved from the 18th century.
“The film takes place in 1781, right before the Battle of Blandford in Petersburg erupted here,” Eastman said. “It’s the story of some slaves who became ‘black redcoats,’ they escaped from plantations.”
Eastman added that there are “several other incidents of insurrections in the film, which explains the title.”
“We’re working with very young children in some of these scenes,” she explained. “Any time you work with children and animals you never know what’s going to happen, so it’s very unpredictable. But I’ve got a good crew and a good cast out here so everything’s going well.
Friends of cast member Brittany May, a junior at Prince George High School, describe her as a “character.” For May, who always wanted to be an actor, this film provided an opportunity for her to step out of her comfort zone.
One of the scenes on Saturday called for May to act like her character’s children were being forcibly taken from her. As Eastman yelled “action” and the cameras rolled, May screamed out in a convincing mix of terror and sadness.
She said she draws on personal experience to inform her performance. Her grandmother worked in the house of white people and she has a 1-year-old child.
Eastman’s “Insurrection” is not the first period production to work in the Tri-Cities area. Eastman is in good company with other Hollywood-style film productions like Steven Spielberg's “Lincoln,” AMC’s production of “Turn,” Meg Ryan’s directorial debut with “Ithaca,” and most recently Jeff Nichols’ film, “Loving.”
“For me, since I am a historian, this area is just so important to filmmakers,” said Eastman. “I’ve tried to tell so many people that this is really a jewel for anybody who wants to film historic pieces here.”
Eastman draws inspiration from the preserved surroundings.
“It just looks like you’ve gone back to the 18th century here. We did not have to build any of these sets here. Everything was here ready-made for us.”
Eastman hopes to premier the film in the second week of November, air it on PBS television and sell DVDs.