Sunday, November 17, 2019

Gerald Baliles and the Virginia film industry

Former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles was laid to rest yesterday after a funeral service at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville.  After serving in the House of Delegates and as Attorney General, Baliles was elected governor in 1985 and served a four-year term ending in 1989.  He succeeded Governor Chuck Robb and was, in turn, succeeded by Governor Doug Wilder.

Gerald Baliles Virginia Film Festival 2013
Gerald Baliles (c) Rick Sincere 2013
During his term as governor, Baliles became a co-founder (with Patricia Kluge and others) of the Virginia Festival of American Film, which eventually became the Virginia Film Festival.  The most recent film festival, the 32nd annual, took place across various venues in Charlottesville last month.

At the 26th annual Virginia Film Festival in 2013, I spoke to Governor Baliles -- who was then director of the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia -- and asked him about the beginnings of the film festival and his role in enhancing the footprint of the film industry in Virginia.

Baliles had just moderated a panel discussion following a screening of the CNN documentary film, Our Nixon, with the film's producer, Brian L. Frye, and Miller Center historian Ken Hughes (see below).

I began by asking whether the Virginia Film Festival, as it had developed over the years, had met or exceeded his expectations back in the 1980s.

"When one launches a new venture," he said, "one has a vision. One has hopes, expectations. I thought it was entirely conceivable that the first couple of years, if they went well, would provide the setting for a much larger public acceptance and interest in support of what has come to be known as the Virginia Film Festival."

He conceded that "it is impossible to predict the details but it is also possible to envision the possibilities and that's what we had 26 years ago."

I also asked about his desire to expand the activities of the film industry in Virginia. He explained how he used a legislative maneuver to authorize what became the Virginia Film Office.

Virginia Film Festival logo
Virginia Film Festival logo
Baliles explained that every state in the United States and foreign countries "are competing for production of films in their own localities."

He noted that, "when I was a young legislator, I was struck by a film that was made in Hampton Roads, and I read that the producers had left 40 percent of their budget in Hampton Roads and I thought, 'Why don't we do this sort of thing?'"

After he learned about that, he said, "I put a bill in to create a Virginia film office as a way of enticing producers to come to the state. We would provide advice and counsel and scouting locations and that sort of thing."

The bill failed, however, but then-Delegate Baliles "happened to serve on the Appropriations Committee and the budget always contains a lot of fine print in the back. So, when my bill was killed, I just inserted the same language in the back of the budget. The budget was approved, of course, and so was the film office. The film office then started, I think, to create the possibilities of attracting film producers to the state. The Virginia Film Festival was created 10 to 15 years later, when I was in office as governor."

His aim in seeing more movies in Virginia was not incidental, he continued.

"My interest in film has been one of long standing. I read a lot but I also recognize we are a visual society, and pictures speak louder than words."

The entire interview with former Governor Gerald Baliles is available for listening as part of the November 9 podcast episode of The Score from Bearing Drift, "The Score: Virginia Elections, Candidates Speak, Assessing Politics, Business Ethics, Gerald Baliles."


Here is the video of Governor Baliles moderating the panel discussion on Our Nixon in 2013:

And here is Governor Baliles introducing a screening of All the President's Men at the Virginia Film Festival in 2012:

He also moderated a post-screening panel discussion about the movie with journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward:

Unrelated to the Virginia Film Festival, here is former Governor Baliles speaking at the ceremony marking the opening of the visitors' center at Monticello in 2009: