Introductory, Exhibit Films Enrich Visitor Experience at American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
YORKTOWN, Va. – Innovative films play an important role in linking the 18th century to the 21st at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, starting with an introductory film in the 170-seat museum theater – “Liberty Fever” – narrated by an early 19th-century storyteller gathering stories about the American Revolution. Five different short films – including one with a 180-degree surround screen and dramatic special effects – are incorporated in permanent exhibition gallery settings, complementing period artifacts and interactive exhibits that connect people of today to the Revolutionary period. All of the films had their public premiere on October 15, 2016, in conjunction with the debut of expansive new exhibition galleries.
‘Liberty Fever’ Introductory Film
The “Liberty Fever” storyteller shares his accounts with the audience using a moving panorama, or “crankie,” presentation, a form of mass media popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in which dramatic backlit silhouettes scrolled on a long roll of paper in front of the audience. Some panoramas were huge and shown in theaters and exhibition halls, while others were much smaller and portable to travel throughout the countryside.
“Liberty Fever” – which won an American Association of Museums Gold MUSE Award in 2017 – features stationary silhouettes and moving shadow puppets scrolling by on a large “crankie” are interwoven with live-action film segments featuring the stories of five people who lived during the American Revolution: George Hewes, a witness to the Boston Massacre in 1770; Billy Flora, a hero of the Battle of Great Bridge in Virginia in 1775; Isabella Ferguson, an Irish immigrant to South Carolina who supported the Patriot cause; John Howland, a Continental Army soldier at the Battle of Princeton; and Peter Harris, a Catawba Indian from South Carolina who fought on the American side. The film is intended to evoke emotional connections with the story and characters so that modern-day viewers reflect on what the American Revolution means to their lives today.
The first film visitors encounter in the exhibition galleries, shown inside a tavern in a re-created wharf setting, uses period images and illustrations to chronicle the evolution in the relationship between American colonists and the British government from the French and Indian War – which was followed by the imposition of taxes on the colonists to help pay Britain’s war debt – to the outbreak of armed conflict in 1775.
At a re-created 18th-century print shop, film footage, animation and period images are combined in a short film illustrating how news of the Declaration of Independence was communicated throughout the colonies and across the ocean.
Inside a tent that serves as a theater, “The First Great Victory,” with actors portraying American and British commanders and soldiers, presents the story of the 1777 Battle of Saratoga, a turning point in the Revolution that led to critical French support of the American cause and a formal alliance.
“The Siege of Yorktown” unfolds in an experiential theater, complete with rumbling seats, wind, smoke and the smells of gunpowder, seawater and coffee. The action occurs on a 180-degree surround screen and includes the Battle of Capes that resulted in a French blockade of the Chesapeake Bay, preventing access by sea to Yorktown, attacks on British redoubts in Yorktown, and the British surrender on October 19, 1781. Actors portray allied Generals Washington and Rochambeau and British General Cornwallis as well as Joseph Plumb Martin, a member of the Continental Army’s Corps of Sappers and Miners who helped build fortifications at Yorktown, and Sarah Osborn, who followed the Continental Army with her husband and served food and coffee to the troops.
The creation of a new national government after the Revolution is the theme of the final gallery film, emphasizing the role of negotiation, compromise and amendment. Animated graphics combine with the words of many of those involved in shaping the Constitution and, subsequently, the Bill of Rights, among them Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris and George Mason.
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown films were produced by Cortina Productions of McLean, working with media production and curatorial staff of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, the Virginia state agency that administers the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and Jamestown Settlement history museums. Production of the films was funded by donations to the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown Campaign for Support. Dominion Resources, a leadership donor, underwrote “The Siege of Yorktown” gallery film experience.