Movie’s presence in city has ups and downs, but remains a rare opportunity

Published 7:20 pm Friday, June 27, 2014

Starting Sunday, Selma’s atmosphere began to change. It was clear that the presence of hundreds of movie personnel had an effect on the city’s psyche.

Suddenly, Water Avenue went from one of the busiest streets in Selma to a virtual ghost town for car traffic. Instead, movie personnel colonized the southern-most portion of downtown, turning the Edmund Pettus Bridge into a movie set.

For some it was an exciting prospect. It’s rare that a movie production with 700 crew members comes to Selma.

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If nothing else, international celebrity Oprah Winfrey was in Selma for multiple days and nearly stayed in the Mabry-Jones house in the historic Old Town neighborhood.

Others were concerned that the closure of main streets, home to dozens of businesses, would reduce income. Judging by the relative emptiness of downtown Selma during filming, business surely was reduced for some businesses.

Some businesses received checks as compensation for time lost. Though, it’s unlikely that the movie’s payment was enough to equal multiple average days of business.

In spite of the reduction in business for some, we’re thankful that Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay and the rest of the “Selma” crew chose to travel to Alabama’s Black Belt. Selma Mayor George Evans and the Alabama Film Office also deserve thanks for bringing the movie to the state, as they originally planned to film entirely in Georgia.

Ultimately, business owners may be right. The most important consideration for any large event or venture is an economic impact, as Selma remains a hub for the state’s poorest region.

City officials touted the potential economic effect of the movie early on and, in August, when sales tax returns are announced, the true result of filming will be revealed.

And, during the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the city will surely see some sort of greater-than-normal boost from the Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

So, while it is a rare opportunity for the city’s story to be told on an international stage, the overall success of the movie for Selma can only truly be measured by how it affects the city, its residents and business owners financially.