Editor’s Note: Part of this column was published here 10 years ago. I barely remember writing it, so I’m hoping you won’t remember reading it. – Margaret
Who’d have imagined moving from metropolitan Atlanta to an obscure barrier island off the South Carolina coast could drastically broaden a girl’s horizons?
It was the summer of 1993. I had lived on Fripp Island only a short time, but already my life had taken a decided turn for the glamorous. I’d met my literary hero Pat Conroy, who turned out to be a neighbor . . . and now, a movie was being filmed right down the street from my house!
It had a weird name – Forrest Gump? – and according to the scuttlebutt, the movie would be every bit as odd as its title. People weren’t quite sure what to make of it. I figured it’d probably go straight to video.
Nevertheless, it was a movie! Excitement was in the air. Tom Hanks was starring, and rumor had it he was staying on the island. I dreamed of bumping into him “casually” – maybe on the beach or at the marina bar. I would play it cool, no fawning, and he’d be taken with my low-key Southern charm. We’d end up chatting away like old friends and he’d ask me to show him around the island . . .
Never happened. I did, however, pass Hanks one day on the jogging trail. I was out for my daily run, and coming toward me along the path was a perfectly ordinary-looking man with a baseball cap pulled low on his forehead. We made brief eye contact, as you often do in these situations, and he was already past me when I realized who he was. Needless to say, the encounter fell slightly short of my dream. Still, my heart pounded. Tom Hanks!
Later that week, a very nice woman came into the dress shop where I worked, and we talked for almost an hour. Her name was Moira, and I can still remember her gravelly voice and her pale, merry blue eyes. We hit it off like gangbusters, just kind of clicked. She told me her husband had a part in the Tom Hanks movie and that she and their kids were enjoying a beach vacation while he worked. He was an actor I’d never heard of before, and I assumed his role was a small one. His name was Gary Sinise.
Those are my personal Forrest Gump stories. They’re not much, but they’re mine, and I cherish them. Do we ever grow so old, so jaded and world-weary, that we’re no longer thrilled by a fleeting brush with celebrity? Do we ever get beyond being dazzled by The Movies and those rarified creatures who make them? I haven’t.
On the 30th anniversary of its release, Forrest Gump remains a source of great pride and affection for folks all over the Beaufort area, many of whom were involved in the making of this iconic – yes, I went there: iconic – American film. My “straight to video” prediction notwithstanding, Gump took six Oscars that season (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor), the character of Forrest became a fixture in American culture, and Gumpisms found a permanent place in our national lexicon. (“Life is like a box of chocolates,” “I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is,” etc. etc.)
And that actor I’d never heard of, Gary Sinise? Not only did he become a big star; he turned that “small role” – for my money, one of the most moving film performances of all time – into a symbol of hope, traveling from coast to coast (making several stops in Beaufort!) with his Lt. Dan Band, in support of America’s wounded warriors.
And this year, the Beaufort International Film Festival will celebrate 30 years of Forrest Gump by honoring Sinise with the Pat Conroy Lifetime Achievement Award. The actor will be in town for the festivities, performing a Lt. Dan Band concert at MCAS on Friday, Feb. 23, and chatting with BIFF director Ron Tucker on stage at USCB the following day. (The details of these events are still firming up. Stay tuned!)
The other big Gump-centric event at BIFF 2024 will be the world premiere of The Spirit of Beaufort: Remembering Forrest Gump, a documentary film by Daniel Stanislawski.
You may have seen the trailer; it’s making the rounds on social media and is absolutely charming. It features lots of familiar faces – Pat Green, Catherine Scarborough, and Marlena Smalls, among others – and plenty of beautiful local scenery.
From what I gather, the film is about the making of Forrest Gump – with Beaufortonians sharing their memories and stories – but also about the legacy of this movie, and the way Beaufort has cultivated that legacy.
I was fascinated by the filmmaker’s statement that accompanies the trailer on YouTube. Stanislawski is Polish, but it seems he has a real heart for the South Carolina Lowcountry:
“In a direct or indirect way this film has influenced, in a positive way, the lives of many in this small seaside town and it has greatly contributed to the filmmaking legacy of the state of South Carolina. It’s the Director’s intent to show the amazing phenomenon of cultivating a film over the years and what values and message it brings. Besides, these are also interesting stories and anecdotes of the inhabitants from the period of the creation of this world-famous production of one of the most iconic films of all time. The background for it all is Beaufort, picturesquely situated on the island of Port Royal, in the heart of the Sea Islands and the South Carolina Lowcountry.
“As a man from Europe, fascinated by the United States, I want to thoroughly ‘investigate with the camera’ a part of the life of the American city and community. Be able to get to know people and their lifestyle. Take part in the Beaufort Shrimp Festival, go on a shrimp boat or simply stroll the streets and surroundings of the city and visit historical film locations. And finally, taste the Chocolate Tree in Beaufort, because ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’ I love the film ‘Forrest Gump’ and as an independent filmmaker I want to give something from my heart with great passion in the form of a documentary that will undoubtedly be a beautiful souvenir for residents and a curiosity for film fans around the world.” – Daniel Stanislawski.
It’s going to be a great year at BIFF, y’all. “The Best Ever,” as Ron Tucker always says, and he’s never wrong. Look for more information in Lowcountry Weekly as details unfold.