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Filming Juanita

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Millstone Tea Room focus of scenes

By Tom Wilmoth

    Back in March, a location scout for the film Juanita visited with Jared Srsic several times about using the Millstone Tea Room as a major backdrop for the film.

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    When the offer was made, Srsic was more than willing to offer up his restaurant for the week. So last week, the Millstone Tea Room became the home of Chez Paper Moon.
    “I signed the restaurant away for a week,” Srsic said.
    And he couldn’t be happier about how it all turned out.
    “It was a lot of fun,” Srsic said. “It was a good experience.”
    And he and his family got involved.
    The film company hired Srsic to do food styling for the scenes at the restaurant. That food was placed in front of the extras who were eating at the diner while the scenes were being shot.
    Srsic was even asked if he wanted to be in a scene and he agreed. The only problem was the scene got cut.
    “That’s pretty much the life of an extra,” he said.
    Srsic said the director and staff on hand were “down to earth” and friendly.

    One of the Millstone Tea Room cooks taught the lead actors how to make poached eggs, something that they had to do in the film.
    “It made me proud seeing her do it,” Srsic said.
    While at the Big Island restaurant, the film crew was shooting 10 scenes at the “Paper Moon” diner.
    While he heard horror stories about how crews could blow in and blow out, Srsic said this crew and lead actors couldn’t have been nicer and gracious.
    Other areas around the restaurant were also used for the film.
    “Overall it was real fun, a positive experience,” Srsic said. “They cleaned everything up very well and put it all back.”
    Traffic along Va. 122 was stopped at times during the filming. They may promote the fact that the film used Millstone through a quail dish that was popular throughout the week in the scenes. They’ve also joked about putting up a plaque where actress Alfre Woodard sat during filming.
    Srsic said they showed the production crew a good location for future filming in this area. “I’m glad that they chose Bedford County.”
    Srsic said Netflix bought the global rights to the film.
    Filming for the feature film Juanita took place in Bedford April 29-May 5.  On the afternoon of May 3, Nicole Johnson, Director of Tourism, was invited for a behind-the-scenes tour of the set.  Upon arriving, she was finally able to meet face-to-face with one of the location scouts she’d been communicating with by phone and email for the previous several weeks. 
    After a walk-through of “Chez Paper Moon,” which will be featured towards the end of the film, she boarded a shuttle and they headed down the road to Bedford County Lake. It was here that the equipment trailers were stored, where the cast spent time in their trailers between filming, and where the catering tent was staged for cast and crew meals. 
    Each day they worked a 12-hour shift, which varied slightly each day.  On this particular day, lunch was at 3 p.m., and Johnson had the chance to experience meal time with the film crew, which also included seeing cast members emerge from their trailers to join everyone for a quick bite to eat.
    After lunch, everyone took the short shuttle ride back to the movie set, and while there she got to witness one of the last scenes of the film being made, which was at the house behind Millstone Tea Room. The scene included  Woodard and co-star Adam Beach. 
    There were several spectators at this point. “It was a great experience, and I hope we’ll see more of this type of thing happening in Bedford,” stated Johnson.
    If you stop by the Millstone Tea Room during the next couple of weeks, be sure to ask for the Twin Carolina Quail with tomato bacon gravy over grits. 
    Karen Hopkins from the Little Town Players heard the film crew was interested in extras and called the casting director. The next thing Hopkins knew was that she had been asked to be in the film.
    She agreed and showed up Sunday at 8:30 a.m., along with a crew of other extras. They were shuttled down to Bedford County Lake, “served a wonderful hot lunch,” and finally called to the Millstone Tea Room about 4 p.m.
    “There was a lot of hurry up and wait,” Hopkins said.
    The crew filmed two scenes that day. Her job? “We just sat there and pretended we were eating. You couldn’t talk; you couldn’t make any noise.”
    But you had to pretend you were talking.
    Hopkins has helped out on other films and has done quite a bit of work with television crews including with the show Unsolved Mysteries and with the Travel Channel and BBC. Several of the television shows dealt with the Beale’s Treasure and Hopkins was also on a BBC production that dealt with Patsy Cline, following LTP’s production of Always Patsy Cline.
    As for her experience with the film, Hopkins was glad for the opportunity.
    “It was fun; I got to meet a lot of new people, interesting people,” she said.
    Along with Woodard (12 Years a Slave, Captain America: Civil War) Juanita also stars Petersburg native Blair Underwood (Agents of  S.H.I.E.L.D., L.A. Law) and Beach.
    Juanita is being directed by Clark Johnson (Homeland, The Wire). Virginia native Mel Jones (Dear White People), Stephanie Allain (Hustle & Flow) and Jason Michael Berman (The Birth of a Nation) will produce the film. The trios’ last project, Burning Sands, filmed in Petersburg last spring, was an official selection at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and is now available on Netflix.
    Juanita, based on the novel Dancing on the Edge of the Roof by Sheila Williams and adapted for the screen by Roderick Spencer, tells the story of Juanita, a hardworking nurse’s aide, mother and grandmother, who wants adventure and excitement but wonders if such things exist for an aging African-American woman stuck caring for her grown children. Tired of her impoverished surroundings, Juanita untethers herself from her exhausting life and sets out on a bus to an unknown destination and future.