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A film crew from Maryland-based Signature Communications prepares to shoot scenes for a film about George Washington Carver in Historic Saranac Lake's Trudeau Laboratory on Church Street Wednesday. The actor in the white suit playing Carver is Altorro Black. Standing to his left is the film's producer, John Allen.<br />(Adirondack Daily Enterprise photo -- Chris Knight)<br />
A film crew from Maryland-based Signature Communications prepares to shoot scenes for a film about George Washington Carver in Historic Saranac Lake's Trudeau Laboratory on Church Street Wednesday. The actor in the white suit playing Carver is Altorro Black. Standing to his left is the film's producer, John Allen.
(Adirondack Daily Enterprise photo -- Chris Knight)

New film sets scenes at Trudeau lab

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A film crew was in Saranac Lake last week to shoot scenes for a National Park Service film it's producing about George Washington Carver. Carver was a prominent African-American scientist and inventor best known for the many uses he devised for the peanut.

The Maryland-based film crew is using the laboratory where scientist Edward Livingston Trudeau conducted his tuberculosis research as the backdrop for several scenes in the film. The lab has been restored by Historic Saranac Lake, which runs it as a museum and history center.

Chris Knight visited the set during a break in filming last week.

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Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

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Film producer John Allen said he needed a lab that was operating at the same time Carver was conducting his agricultural research at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"It was built almost exactly at the same time frame that Carver moved to Tuskegee," Allen said. "It has these brick, ceramic walls that are identical to historic photos we've seen of Carver working in his lab. A lot of the equipment is here. It physically is very much like the photos we have of Carver's lab. It's the only one we've been able to find."

Judi Flowers, the film's costume designer, who lives in Virginia, said the laboratory and the village are the perfect setting for the film.

"This is such a picturesque, Americana kind of turn-of-the-century town," she said. "Driving through here is like a standing set. On a major film, like in the big leagues, they'd build all this. There would be no rooms behind it, but it would look just like this."

The scenes filmed in the Saranac lab featured an actor playing Carver interacting with a group of African-American students, played by students from North Country Community College and Lake Placid High School.

The film will also feature scenes of Carver's early life, when he was born into slavery in Missouri during the Civil War, and scenes in Washington, D.C., where Carver testified before Congress.

Allen said the film focuses on Carver's legacy.

"His goal was to, as he put it, help the man farthest down, help the poor blacks in the South who were still living virtually as though they were slaves," Allen said. "Carver tried to make breakthroughs in understanding how they could plant better crops and not just be a slave to cotton and how they could learn about nutrition. He did a huge amount of lab research.”

While there might seem to be few connections between Carver and Trudeau, Historic Saranac Lake director Amy Catania said both men were key players in what was an exciting time in science in the United States.

 “When John sent me the pictures of Carver working in his lab, it was just amazing to see a very similar space, a busy lab like a lot of the pictures we have of here, and yet everybody is African-American. So it’s pretty exciting.”

The film will be the centerpiece video for visitors to the George Washington Carver National Memorial, located at Carver's birthplace in Diamond, Mo. An educational video about Carver for middle school students is also being produced.

Production is expected to wrap up next summer. Allen said Historic Saranac Lake will get a credit and a copy of the film.

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