Friday, December 4, 2009

Norman Studios Silent Film Museum

At the turn of the 20th Century, Jacksonville, Florida was a hub of film production, drawing the attention of companies from all over the United States (and even the world). Sought after for its diverse, romantic locations, beautiful weather and clear skies, it’s not hard to imagine that between “1912 and 1914, there were more motion-picture production crews working in Northeast Florida than in Los Angeles,” earning it the title, “The Winter Film Capital of the World.”

One of the 30+ film studios around Jacksonville in 1916 was the Eagle Studios complex in the Arlington district. By 1920, this property had come under the ownership of entrepreneur Richard Norman and renamed Norman Laboratories. Norman’s attitude towards race-relations was especially progressive in context with the political climate of some of his competitors’ works, specifically the Civil War movies of Kalem studios with a significantly Confederate bias. His altruism led him to an untapped market as he was one of the first producers to make “race films” by giving black actors well-paying jobs and positive roles without indulging in popular stereotypical casting of the time.

Due to the significance of this film studio to Black History and Film Production History in Jacksonville, a restoration of this studio began in 2002 led by community activist Ann Burt and City Councilman Lake Ray. In the summer of 2008, the City of Jacksonville allocated $685,000 to revitalize four of the five buildings. Long term plans include the purchase of the final building of the studio, a complete restoration of the property, a silent film museum and events like film-related workshops, field trips for local schools and summer camp programs.

More information is available at their new website:  Norman Studios Silent Film Museum

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