By Jana Wagoner
Special to the Rappahannock News
When Ron Maxwell was a boy growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s, his father, John F. Maxwell, often read books to him and his younger brother dealing with American history.
To make the stories come alive, the father would also take his sons to various Colonial sites and Revolutionary War sites in the New Jersey area.
“It was so thrilling to be young and discover these places,” said Maxwell, who now has a place in Virginia, near Flint Hill.
Then, in 1978, Maxwell visited Gettysburg for the first time with “The Killer Angels” author Michael Shaara as his tour guide. The two retraced the battle day-by-day, giving Maxwell a strong sense of the feelings involved on both sides of the conflict between the North and the South.
Maxwell later parlayed his visit to the site of the battle – often called the turning point of the Civil War – to the silver screen when he directed the movie “Gettysburg” in 1993.
In 2003, he followed up with “Gods and Generals,” a prequel to “Gettysburg,” featuring many of the same actors.
Hylton Center for the Performing Arts, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas, VA 20110
Shows at 3 p.m. July 22 ($61 and includes discussion with actors from the film and director Ron Maxwell) and 6 p.m July 23 ($35, screening only).
Information at hallowedground.org; tickets available at tickets.com (type “Gods & Generals” into the search box). Discounts can be obtained for the following groups for the July 22 screening by using the coupon codes provided (identification will be required on arrival):
Military members and their families: military. Students: student. Renactors: reenactor.
On July 22, Maxwell will be in Manassas at a premiere of a new director’s cut of “Gods and Generals” that Warner Brothers is partnering with the Journey Through Hallowed Ground to host.
Several of the movie’s actors will also be at the July 22 premiere and will participate in a forum before the screening of the film.
According to Maxwell, the director’s cut features an hour of original footage added to the film during re-editing sessions last fall.
Warner Brothers decided to release director’s cuts of both “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals” to commemorate this year’s sesquicentennial of the Civil War.
Then Cate Magennis Wyatt, president of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, came up with the idea of premiering the new release of “Gods and Generals” in a theater close to where much of the Civil War’s action took place 150 years ago.
Maxwell, who is on the National Advisory Council for the Journey, thought it was a great idea, and so did Warner Brothers.
The film will be shown July 22 and July 23 at Hylton Center for the Performing Arts; however, only the July 22 screening will feature the forum with Maxwell and the actors.
Warner Brothers is also including information about the Journey Through Hallowed Ground in the box set containing the new director’s cuts of both films. Each film also shows Maxwell encouraging viewers to come take the Journey from Gettysburg in the North to Monticello in the South.
According to Maxwell, the best way to learn about American history is to actually visit the places we read about in school.
The Journey Through Hallowed Ground has the itinerary all laid out for visitors. Maxwell himself has pointed friends from around the country to the Journey’s website (hallowedground.org) when they’ve asked him where to visit when they come to the eastern part of the country.
Maxwell moved to Rappahannock County to be in the midst of one of the country’s most historical corridors and live near people who appreciate that heritage.
“I like to live in a place where so many people share this consciousness and respect for the land, the open space and its relationship to our development as a people and as a country,” he said.
The aspect of both “Gods and Generals” and “Gettysburg” that he’s most proud of is what he said was sometimes criticized when the films came out – they don’t take sides.
“With me, it’s about commemoration, and understanding, and compassion,” Maxwell said. “If I can claim any hallmark for these films, it’s compassion.”
The films “showed the entire generation with compassion because that generation suffered,” he said.
Maxwell added that he hopes that viewers of “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals,” view them with a sense of humility.
“You have to let go of your own pride to be with” the characters, he said.
“We need to know about the sacrifices of our ancestors so that we don’t take them for granted
“You can’t really know America unless you spend some time visiting the Civil War,” he said.