A downtown Cartersville fixture since the early 1900s, the Bartow County gold dome courthouse is continuing to capture the eye of Hollywood. In addition to the “Devil’s Knot,” which released in 2013, the historic structure recently welcomed production crews with “The Best of Enemies” Wednesday and is gearing up for scenes from the independent film “The Appeal” Tuesday through Thursday.
“The gold dome courthouse was completed in 1903 and was the main court and administrative office for the county government until 1992 when the current courthouse opened,” said Kathy Gill, Bartow’s county clerk. “It was renovated in the 1960s and the county has spent a couple of million dollars over the last decade preserving the dome, roof and exterior from decay. We hope to renovate the interior through the next SPLOST [Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax] and bring it back to its former glory. It currently houses a field office of the Secretary of State, the 7th Judicial District Administrative offices, the coroner’s office and the Etowah Valley Historic Society offices.
“[‘The Best of Enemies’] ... only [used] an office area on the lower level of the courthouse for this production. The space [had] been transformed for the movie to mimic the judge’s chambers. Other than our facilities management folks who are tasked with staying on-scene with the production crew during filming, it’s pretty much been business as usual for us here in the administration building. The old courthouse is a historic jewel and an iconic symbol of the county, so we’re always excited when we have the opportunity to showcase it.”
Due in part to the entertainment industry’s interest in the old courthouse, Bartow created a film permit ordinance three years ago.
“The county implemented the film permit ordinance in 2014 after noticing a proliferation of unregulated film shooting affecting the public streets, and also after repeated requests to film in the 1903 courthouse,” Gill said. “We wanted to standardize our approach to allowing film production. Georgia on the state level has made a considerable investment in supporting the film industry, and we wanted to do our part to allow it to grow.
“A number of movies and TV series have [filmed] in the county, including ... ‘Furious 7,’ ‘The Fundamentals of Caregiving,’ ‘The Red Road,’ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy [Vol.] 2,’ the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ TV series, ‘90 Minutes in Heaven’ and ‘Manifesto.’ ... We’ve also had some commercials filmed here. And of course, there’s the ‘Devil’s Knot’ movie from a few years back.”
She continued, “Bartow offers a wide variety of locations in a small area that is not congested. Rural roads, a charming small town, historic houses, Lake Allatoona and scenic Bethany Bridge. There are only three similar iron trestle bridges in Georgia and the other two are on state highways and more difficult to use.”
Like Gill, Ellen Archer — executive director for the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau — also is delighted to see the gold dome courthouse and other notable local structures highlighted by entertainment productions.
“It’s great to have them in the courthouse because No. 1, it’s beautiful and a great trademark for Bartow County; and No. 2, it’s open to the public,” Archer said. “‘The Best of Enemies’ also [was] shooting inside City Hall and the same attributes apply there — it’s lovely.
“Film followers can come by any day and walk in. Hopefully, we’ll land a big hit and folks looking for bragging [rights] will do selfies in front of the courthouse or City Hall and post to their social media — advertising for us.”
Prior to filming at the gold dome courthouse, “The Best of Enemies” shot some scenes at Ross’ Diner in downtown Cartersville June 1.
Based on Osha Gray Davidson’s book, “The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South,” the movie will star Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. The film is set in Durham, North Carolina, and explores the initial battle and transforming ties of a Civil Rights activist and the local leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
“There were a lot of trucks and large vehicles downtown, but they kept that contained to a fairly small area,” said Cartersville Downtown Development Authority Manager Lillie Read, referring to the June 1 filming. “I would periodically see folks riding around on bicycles with radios and production equipment and from time to time the Cartersville police had to hold traffic for filming. But there were officers on site at all times directing traffic and trying to minimize impact so that was well managed. Old cars were included as part of the set since ‘Best of Enemies’ is taking place during the civil rights era, and it was fun to see the cast dressed in their period outfits.
“Most people who have spoken to me about it like the fact that we have movies coming here to film,” she said. “They like that the industry recognizes all the great things this community has to offer, and are proud that Cartersville has a reputation as [a] welcoming and appealing place.
“We have yet another movie filming downtown next week so, from all the evidence, I would say that our popularity is definitely growing. I think downtown is appealing, because it is well maintained and largely intact. We have beautiful visual spaces and a wonderful built environment that people find appealing. I also think our proximity to the metro area is something that producers like, because this is a relatively easy place to get to. I have also had a few different location scouts tell me that they find Cartersville to be a great community to work with. They mentioned that the residents were very friendly and they liked the warm reception that they received as they tried to coordinate all the working parts of a movie set.”
In addition to setting up at the old courthouse, Cornerstone Media Productions also has selected various spots around the city and county for filming “The Appeal.”
“Their permit also included the Cass Grocery on June 1 and A Better Storage facility on JFH Parkway on June 8, 9 and 13. They will return to our Church Annex facility — the old First Baptist Church building — to film on July 5. I understand from my conversations with Darius Washington, the script’s producer, that they will be in the area for about a month. They have also secured a permit from the city for various locations.”