Exploring the ChesapeakeThe New World

The New World: An Upcoming Film from New Line Cinema

Filmmaker Terrence Malick has crafted an adventure story set amidst the first encounter of English and Native American cultures during the founding of the Jamestown settlement. The New World premieres in the United States December 2005.

Visit the official site of The New World.

Photo: Colonists and the ship Discovery at Jamestown, Virginia
A Conversation with Sarah Green: David Price Talks with the Producer of The New World

As producer of the film The New World, Sarah Green worked closely with director Terrence Malick to bring Mr. Malick's vision of John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Jamestown colony to the screen. Ms. Green's wide-ranging body of work includes Frida (2002) and Girlfight (2000), as well as collaborations with John Sayles and David Mamet.

Several months before the release of The New World, Ms. Green spoke with David A. Price, author of the critically acclaimed history Love and Hate in Jamestown, about the challenges involved in telling a 400-year-old story on film.

Photo: Native American, Virginia
A scene from New Line Cinema's film The New World
Photograph by Merie Wallace, SMPSP/New Line Productions
 
Photo: Native American, Virginia
A scene from New Line Cinema's film The New World
Photograph by Merie Wallace, SMPSP/New Line Productions

Price: How did this movie come about? What was the genesis of it?

Green: Terry wrote the script twenty or twenty-five years ago, and then he put it away. I can't say why, exactly. But I met Terry about three years ago, and we started spending time together, sort of deciding that we would probably work well together. He gave me the script and just said, "I think this is the right time for this." And I read it and I said, "I think you're right." And I can't tell you why; I wasn't even anticipating, to be honest, the 400-year anniversary of Jamestown or any of those things. It just felt right.

Price: A lot of Hollywood movies show the Indians in what you might call a generic form: their clothing, their shelters. How did you avoid falling into that trap? I've seen the stills, and it's obvious that you tried to be conscientious about that.

Green: More stories are told in the Western frontier than on the Eastern coast, so it makes sense that they are portraying Plains Indians, and certainly that's become the norm, it's become what's familiar. It was a great delight for us to find that there were very different kinds of tribes on the East Coast, and we just went to the research. Jack Fisk, Terry's designer, really loves history and had great fun poring through all the books. And we all did the same things; we read the journal writings and letters from those early days in Jamestown. That gave us a first-hand account of people's feeling and impressions of the area, including some drawings. Then there were the John White drawings, some of which are based in the Carolinas, but some of which were from Virginia. It was filtered through the European eye, but you had some sense of what the housing looked like, what the clothing looked like, the people—the [face and body] paint.

Then we spoke to the tribal descendants. We went to several [tribes]—we introduced ourselves to them, showed them what we were doing, and asked their advice. Those who were friendly and open, we continued a dialogue with and would ask them questions. And so we got whatever information that the tribes still knew or were told.

Then it was a leap of faith. We all had to use our own instincts. I know the costume designer [Jacqueline West] had what information she had from the drawings and the research, but then she had to think by herself what would really make this clothing move in the way that these people had to move in this world. So her designs were altered by what made them more fluid, more easy to move with the body, those kinds of things.

You have to take a leap. It's the same with the language: We got a linguist who could best help recreate the language, and part of it is based on the [William] Strachey translations that were written at the time. Then he had to use what he knew about other languages of that area and make some assumptions, look where different ones were similar and where they were different, and where you could pretty much say—if you use this logic based on the translations we know existed, what would that mean?

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