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Editor’s note: This is the final column in a three-part-series by Rebecca Hagelin on the major-motion picture film, “Gods and Generals.” (See Part 1 and Part 2.) Hagelin spent six days on the set of the film and was granted several private interviews with screenwriter, producer and director Ron Maxwell. Her series focuses on the man and his mission to produce an historically accurate portrayal of key characters of the Civil War. The film is debuting Friday, Feb. 21, 2003, and has among its stellar cast Oscar winners Robert Duvall and Mira Sorvino, as well as acclaimed actors Stephen Lang and Jeff Daniels. WND readers can get a sneak peek behind-the-scenes through photos provided exclusively to WorldNetDaily.com.

The temperature hovers just above freezing and an endless fine mist of rain permeates the set and our chilled bodies. Thick, black mud squishes up around our boots and splatters soaked legs with every step. Yet, the mood is both peaceful and mystical as the filming of “Gods and Generals” continues with passion despite the frigid, wet Maryland night.


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Director and Producer Ron Maxwell, with Ashley and Kathleen Farah. Photo by Drew Hagelin.

No one seems to be bothered by the otherwise miserable conditions – an aura of both reflection and expectation fills the air. Arguably the most moving scene of the entire feature film is being shot tonight: Black slaves burying the bodies of the Confederate officers who also happened to be their masters.

As the fallen leaders are reverently placed in their plain caskets, mournful slaves gathered around the nearby campfire softly and prayerfully sing, “Steal Away to Jesus.”


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Director and Producer Ron Maxwell (in ‘C’ cap) checks out a piece of footage with other cast and crew. Photo: Van Redin.

Ron Maxwell, the director of the Civil War dramatic film thoughtfully focuses on one of many scenes that portray the powerful Christian faith shared by both the leaders of the North and South, as well as the slaves that served Confederate masters. In the politically correct present era, Maxwell’s commitment to the historical practice of faith is a courageous anomaly.


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Stephen Lang, left, who plays Stonewall Jackson, and Robert Duvall as Robert E. Lee. Photo by Drew Hagelin.

Based on the best-selling novel by Jeff Shaara, Maxwell’s screenplay of “Gods and Generals” quietly, but at the same time boldly, seeks to reveal the faith of those involved in all aspects of the war. For the vast majority of modern filmmakers and the average American, the fact that so many people in the midst of such a bloody conflict and enslavement of humans could share a deep faith in God is too difficult, too uncomfortable to ponder. Yet for Maxwell, to disregard or dismiss the reality that faith was a very real part of the lives of those embroiled in conflict, is not an option.

“I deal directly and honestly with the complexity of the times. There is no hero worship here – my intention as a filmmaker is to tell the truth.”


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Stephen Lang as Stonewall Jackson, with Kristin Hagelin and Kathleen Farah. Photo by Drew Hagelin.

Maxwell’s approach to telling the story of individuals in the Civil War is refreshing. His innate desire as a storyteller to entertain, combined with his unique commitment to present the apparent paradox of the genuine Christian faith held by enemies in the same war, is done for an important reason: to help us learn from history.


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Actor Stephen Lang as Gen. Stonewall Jackson. Photo: Van Redin.

Maxwell tells me in a private interview, “I have a great curiosity and great compassion for people who get caught up in the civil strife of their era. To tell the truth of those who have come before us helps us better understand and deal with current situations of difficulty and unrest.”

Clearly, the America we enjoy is testament to the fact that God was at work in the lives of both leaders and slaves, and in the heart of a nation torn by conflict. It is the great faith of the leaders of the war – both North and South – and of the enslaved that those from all walks of life can take comfort from today. For filmmakers to avoid the questions and lessons of faith in the midst of conflict is to avoid the most important issues of life itself: In Whom and what do I believe and place my trust? Is my personal faith in God swayed by circumstances, or does it rest decidedly on a confidence in the wisdom of the God of all creation?


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Left to right: Stephen Lang as Stonewall Jackson, Stephen Spacek as James Power Smith, and Jeremy London as Capt. Sandie Pendleton. Photo: Van Redin.

Maxwell is not afraid to show mankind with all of his limitations and faults. The historical characters he portrays do not have all the answers to life, as do modern-day film heroes.

“I’m attempting to give the characters their authentic voices – to portray them in all of their humanity. Understanding the trials and the faith of those that have come before us teaches us valuable lessons. Filmmaking isn’t brain surgery – but it is soul surgery on millions of people at a time.”


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Actor Keith Allison as James J. White receiving direction from Ron Maxwell. Photo: Van Redin.

During my last interview with Maxwell, I discover that he recently suffered a great, personal loss. In the tense days just before production commenced, he watched his father endure an agonizing, slow death from Parkinson’s disease. Maxwell’s voice softens and his speech is deliberate as he describes the dreadful weeks. There is an undeniable strength that accompanies his still all-too-painful memories. I find myself thinking that an unseen evil had attempted – but failed – to steal the spirit of this humble, yet, confident director just before his most important work to date.


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Director and Producer Ron Maxwell in recreated Fredericksburg after invasion by Union soldiers. Photo: Van Redin.

Maxwell lovingly describes the man and influence he had on his impressionable young son: “My father often read to me and took me to historical sites. He provided me with a great curiosity about and appreciation for history at an early age. He was a brave soldier who fought to liberate France in World War II, and my mother was his French war bride. It was a terrible heartbreak to watch him die. But he died knowing I was going to make this important film. He was very proud, and he would be right here with me on the set if he could.”

Indeed, any father would be proud to have a son who has chosen as his life’s work a mission to portray truth, to teach the lessons of history and to pass on the great American legacy of undying faith in God.



Read Part 1

Read Part 2

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