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Historians, Native Americans greet ‘New World’

Terence Malick’s new Pocahontas tale pleases fans in Williamsburg
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pocahontas, hobbled slightly by a bad ankle, walked down the red carpet Wednesday in Colonial Williamsburg, where Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry are more likely to stroll the streets.

Actress Q’orianka Kilcher, clad in a turquoise gown she and her mother made, was in town for the East Coast debut of “The New World,” in which she portrays the Native American princess. She said she was also wearing a black cast on her left ankle because she fell down the stairs at her hotel Tuesday night and tore a ligament.

The movie, filmed in the region last year, is director Terrence Malick’s interpretation of the legendary relationship between Pocahontas and Capt. John Smith, who in 1607 helped found Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America.

Kilcher was the only star to return to Virginia for two screenings Wednesday in Colonial Williamsburg. The restored 18th-century city and tourist attraction features costumed workers, including those portraying Jefferson and Henry.

The 15-year-old actress said she adored Virginia, with its natural settings, and she thanked members of Virginia’s Indian tribes for teaching the cast and crew about their culture and heritage.

“We wouldn’t have been able to make the movie as authentic as it is without their help,” she told reporters. “I love them all.”

Kilcher said the hardest task she faced in her first major role was “to do Pocahontas justice and show her story as well as the Native Americans’ story as best as I could.”

“It was the birthing of a nation and the death, almost, of a culture,” she said. “The culture still exists with the Native Americans that remain but they began to take a very, very hard beating when the English arrived.”

About 800 people were invited to the Williamsburg screenings. The movie, which already premiered in Los Angeles, opens in limited release Sunday and nationwide Jan. 13.

Film rooted firmly in realityThe film also stars Colin Farrell as Smith; Christian Bale as aristocrat John Rolfe, who married Pocahontas; Christopher Plummer as Capt. Christopher Newport, who transported the colonists; and August Schellenberg as Chief Powhatan, Pocahontas’ father.

Executive producer Trish Hoffman said the filmmakers extrapolated from various, sometimes contradictory, sources, including Smith’s diary, and input from modern scholars.

Smith claimed the Powhatan Indians kidnapped him and were about to kill him with a club when Pocahontas threw her body over his and begged her father to spare him. Historians have questioned Smith’s account. Mock execution rituals were an Indian tradition.

“We definitely have taken some creative license, but it’s based in reality,” Hoffman said. “This is really Terry’s vision of it.”

Robert Green, chief of the Patawomeck tribe, said local tribes initially had had some concerns about the movie but he was happy with the way it turned out.

“I was extremely impressed with Terry’s treatment of the native people,” said Green, of Fredericksburg, who has a non-speaking part in the film.

State Sen. Tommy Norment, co-chairman of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, said he hopes the movie will help raise awareness of Jamestown’s pivotal role in the nation’s development and attract tourists as Virginia prepares to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the settlement.

Malick’s wife, Alexandra, lived in Virginia as a child but said she had to convince her husband, who is not a Southerner, to make the movie in the state where the events took place.

“Once he came, there was no doubt where we should film,” said Alexandra, who appears in the movie as Queen Anne. “It’s Eden.”

On a light note, Kilcher acknowledged that she shared her first kiss with co-star Farrell.

“I’m not doing too bad, huh?” joked Kilcher, who said she thought of Farrell as a big brother.