The promotional materials for Terrence Malick’s The New World (2005) devote considerable time to detailing the extraordinary effort of the production crew to recreate Werowocomoco, the capital of the Powhatan’s paramount chiefdom, and Fort James, the first surviving English settlement in Virginia, in the period from 1607 to 1617. The hour-long documentary on “The Making of The New World” accompanying the DVD release of the film, for example, chronicles the shared work of a research team of historians, archeologists, linguists, anthropologists, and members of Virginia tribes to represent as faithfully as possible Powhatan and English agriculture, architecture, language, and material culture. The viewers of the featurette learn that the filming takes place only ten miles from the original location of the settlement and that Werowocomoco and Fort James are reconstructed with exclusively local materials, such as heirloom Indian corn and tobacco plants for the gardens, thousands of shell beads for Powhatan’s mantle, and wild turkey feathers and deer racks provided by Robert Green, the chief of the Patawomeck tribe, to adorn Powhatan’s house. As Dr. William Kelso, director of Archeology for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities and chief archeologist at the original Jamestown settlement site, attests on camera, “the set is a time capsule; it fully captures the feeling of what it was like to live in Fort James.” Choreographers and martial arts experts teach actors the fundamentals of seventeenth-century body language and dialect trainers help Q’orianka Kilcher, the actress portraying Pocahontas, pronounce both Algonquian language and Algonquian-accented seventeenth-century English. The producers repeat frequently that the film’s director “likes the things real,” that they too are committed to “solid reality,” all the way down to filming without artificial lighting to computer generated special effects. And above all, that in a marked departure from the historical representations of American Indians on film, the crew is dedicated to depicting the Algonquian people of early Virginia, rather than generic Indians. Stephen R. Adkins and Robert Green, the chiefs of the Chickahominy and Patawomeck tribes, appear in the documentary, describing their initial wariness of yet another project reinventing their old world anew and cautiously expressing “high hopes” for the film’s potential to evoke among its viewers the long overdue recognition of the people who greeted the settlers of Jamestown.
Copyright © 2012 Mississippi State University. This article first appeared in Mississippi Quarterly 65:1 (2012), 137-153.
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Siebert, Monika. "Historical Realism and Imperialist Nostalgia in Terrence Malick's The New World." Mississippi Quarterly 65, no. 1 (2012): 137-53.