At Melrose, crew shoots scenes for documentary

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 14, 2003

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Filming at the historic house Melrose on Monday will wrap up three days of work in the Natchez area by a New York City crew producing a documentary on slavery.

The crew from WNET worked for two days at Frogmore Plantation in Concordia Parish, La., before going to Melrose for one day of shooting, said Kathleen Jenkins, Melrose curator.

&uot;It’s a four-part series, tentatively titled ‘Remembering Slavery’ and scheduled to air on PBS in the fall of 2004,’&uot; Jenkins said. &uot;This shoot will be part of episode three, which focuses on two slave biographies.&uot;

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Subjects of the two biographies are Harriet Jacobs and Louis Hughes. &uot;The Harriet Jacobs story was filmed in North Carolina,&uot; Jenkins said. &uot;What they are shooting here will be part of the Louis Hughes story.&uot;

Scouts chose Natchez as the appropriate backdrop for the Hughes story even though the setting of his biography is in Holly Springs, Jenkins said.

The story of Hughes is a poignant one, as he was sold and sent to Holly Springs from Virginia when he was only 11.

Natchez actors Sherry Bearden and Jeremy Sheppard were among local talents tapped by the crew for parts in the film &045;&045; Bearden in the part of mistress of the Holly Springs plantation where Hughes was brought and Sheppard, a McLaurin Midddle School sixth-grader, as young Louis Hughes.

Mid morning found the crew scattered about the back grounds of Melrose, with Natchez assistant Sally Durkin helping to keep order and giving directions to workers on both sides of the camera. &uot;Jeremy, a little more reaction,&uot; Durkin called, urging the young actor to show more emotion when his mistress hits him on the head with a palmetto fan. &uot;Rub your head and give her a dirty look.&uot;

Bearden sauntered across the patterned brick walkway leading to the back porch, her iridescent green taffeta skirt catching the sun as she walked.

Approaching the child lazily sweeping the walk in front of her, she raised her fan and hit him on the head with it without speaking. &uot;That was better. Let’s do it one more time,&uot; said Chana Gazit, director, after three or four tries at the short scene.

Gazit said Louis Hughes was taken from his own mother at such a young age that he continued to seek love and reassurance from another person. The lady of the house, however, is cold and distant toward him. &uot;She is irritable and won’t be pleased.&uot;

Hughes’ unhappy situation improves as he grows older, however, Gazit said.

Melrose, a part of the Natchez National Historical Park since 1990, has been the site of many films and television shows for decades past. The challenges are greater now that the mansion is not privately owned, Jenkins said. &uot;It’s been a challenge because of our obligation not to interrupt public access to the site,&uot; she said.

Indeed, tourists came and went as the film crew worked. Park rangers carefully guided the visitors to the right entrance and talked among themselves about how to avoid intruding on the filming as it moved to the inside of Melrose for the next shoot.