Richard Groover: A Filmmaker
for Virginia’s Fifth Century
Richard Groover, assistant professor of biology at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, has also worked with the Virginia Department of Conservation, directed Maymount Park in Richmond, and written for a number of publications. He is the owner of Jackson Associates, a documentary film and video production company in Richmond.
VL How did you, a college biology professor, get started as a producer of historical documentary films?
RG During my previous employment with the Virginia Department of Conservation, I was often assigned to produce audio-visual products, and video productions eventually became part of the mix. Over the years I improved my skills. After leaving that agency, I started my own production company, but I could not make enough money to justify that as my only employment. So I returned to teaching biology, which I had done years before in graduate school. My formal education is in biology. When I became a full-time professor at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, they were nice enough to allow me to continue making the films. History topics interest me and they are easy to produce, so I most often do the films on history topics. Plus, they sell easily. I do have a few ideas for films that are more science-oriented.
VL Would you give us an idea of how many films you have produced and the awards those pictures have won?
RG I have produced three documentaries under the banner of my company, meaning I own the rights to them. These films won awards from the United States International Film and Video Festival out of Chicago, Telly Awards, and the Rochester Film Festival. I have completed several documentaries or educational films for clients, such as the National Park Service and the Virginia Environmental Endowment; the VEE film won an International Television and Video Association award in Virginia. I have produced several TV commercials for state agencies that won public relations awards. In 2005, I won another Telly Award for my first dramatic short film, which runs about six minutes.
VL Which film do you feel is your best?
RG As an actor once said, “Your latest work is always the best.” However, each one of them has its own merits. The Forgotten Fourteen, the story of the fourteen African-American soldiers who each won the Medal of Honor in a single battle, is so important because it tells of the courage and heroism of those men as they won an important battle for the United States Army during the Civil War. As is the case with The Powhatan Mystery, I enjoy telling the story of things most people are unaware of. The Powhatan Mystery relates what happened to the Virginia Indians after 1607. Most people don’t really know what did happen to them, and it is important that we do know, especially as we are focusing on the Jamestown events. Weather Chronicles, another film, takes the viewer through a number of weather events that affected history or famous people.
VL Please identify the audiences your productions target.
RG For The Powhatan Mystery, the target audience, as with most of my films, is students from middle school to college. Usually my films are intended to support topics the teachers are covering, and Standards of Learning are incorporated in the content wherever I can. The films are also enjoyed by the general public, especially people who watch the History Channel.
VL How do you use libraries in researching your subjects?
RG My products are content-driven, so facts and correct information are my life’s blood. Libraries are my IV; sorry to get a little biological on you. The scripts are the most important elements for me. They must be as accurate as I can make them, and the libraries are always where my journey begins. Books also provide pictures or diagrams that I can locate for visuals for the voice-over scenes. Without libraries I could not make the films I make.
VL Is there a particular library that has been especially valuable to you?
RG I would have to credit the Library of Congress and the Library of Virginia. But other libraries are also home to my research, such as the library at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, the Main Street Library in Richmond, and the Pamunkey Regional libraries in Hanover County. I have been through all of those doors a number of times.
VL How long have you taken to produce your recent documentary on Native Americans?
RG For The Powhatan Mystery I started the project in 2000, so six years. Usually it only takes three or four years, but my interest for this one began earlier than usual because I wanted to release the film in 2007 for the commemoration of the Jamestown Settlement. But I have another Native American film that I have been working on for about ten years. When I raise the $30,000 I need to edit the raw footage and release it, it will be finished. Do you know anyone who can give me those funds? Making the films is very easy; raising the money to do them is the hard part.... facts and correct
information are my
life’s blood. Libraries
are my IV....
VL What scholars have helped you in the effort?
RG I define scholars in a number of ways — authors, professors, experts in the field I am documenting. So we must mention Dr. Helen Rountree and Dr. Margaret Williamson Huber, two extraordinary scholars. Their books were very important for my research.Both ladies were very kind to let me interview them on camera, and they are in the film. Dr. Michael Mortlock at the University of Richmond is a very fine scholar who helped me with research. Dr. Eirlys Barker at Thomas Nelson Community College was one of the scholars who reviewed my script before Wes Studi was filmed or read his voice-over lines. The list of scholars is large and I appreciate how they help me.
VL “Visuals” are obviously important in documentary films. How do you typically discover the ones you use?
RG As I said earlier, lithographs, maps, paintings, etc. set me in the direction of possible visuals. They often inform me as to where I have to go for permission to use those visuals. I have also purchased a number of nineteenth-century books that have visuals that I can use without copyright infringements. There are many good sources; you just have to spend hours digging.
VL What topics are you considering for future efforts?
RG Unfortunately, I have had a few great ideas stolen by unethical filmmakers. You can’t copyright an idea, so I cannot tell you. There are three I am considering, but that is all I will say at this time. As I mentioned, that other Native American film needs to be finished. It is a very powerful story that is focused on the Indian wildfire fighters who every year are saving our national forests from being almost totally destroyed.
Narrated by the Wes Studi (Dances with Wolves, Geronimo, The Last of the Mohicans). To order, contact Jackson Associates, P.O. Box 115, Studley, Virginia 23162 or call (804) 381-1968.