Kristen Morales’ story on about the film industry in Athens reminds me of when we all got so excited back in the ‘70s as word leaked out that they wanted to film Animal House here, bringing John Belushi, Donald Sutherland and the crew to town for six or eight weeks. This was, of course, back when nobody had ever made a film here, so the news was huge. Pretty quickly, though, came the update that UGA President Fred Davison had vetoed the idea, because the script was dirty and would portray Athens and the university in a bad light. The company reluctantly took it to the University of Oregon, in Eugene, and the rest is history every time you watch the film. Whenever I see it, I think: “That could be Athens.” We could be seeing 1977 Athens preserved and enhanced. Athens could have made a lot of money, and we might have been in the cafeteria when Belushi started the food fight.
Of course, if you were a university president, and Hollywood came calling to make a film that portrayed you and your administration as conniving tyrants and your students as either prigs or slobs, you’d be reluctant to allow that, too, wouldn’t you? Especially if it was true.
There’s another might-have-been in this issue, hidden in Jack Crowley’s ride-along with a visitor whom he envisions traveling across campus on the light-rail system he hopes will replace the seldom-used railroad tracks there presently. In actual fact, at about the same time the University of Georgia was losing Animal House, we almost got a monorail to carry students around campus but lost that, too. At that time, the federal government was eager to fund a project that would demonstrate the potential for transportation alternatives to the automobile. The University of Georgia applied for and got a federal grant to construct a monorail people-mover. But, alas, the Georgia government refused to put up the required state portion to fund the project, and UGA lost out to the University of West Virginia and Morgantown, WV, where their monorail Personal Transportation System is still serving town and campus and recently passed the 80-million-rider mark.
Let’s not dwell in the past but look forward to what we can accomplish with some vision and some public investment. Rather than regretting our lost chance to become immortalized on film, let’s redouble our efforts to support the film, music, art, theater and other creative endeavors that fill our town today. Let us as a community (and its government) realize the tremendous value to our lives and to our businesses and our civic health that the arts and their infrastructures bring us. We noted in Flagpole last week how public/private partnerships have enriched Greenville, SC. So can we look to Atlanta and to Austin, TX, among other cities, for similar examples of how local governments can strengthen their communities through judicious investment, planning and cooperation. Not a cost: An investment that pays rich dividends.
Let’s also be reminded by that monorail how we don’t want to fall short through lack of vision. Athens and the University of Georgia need to be ready if that old coal-train track ever becomes available. We are talking low-cost, low-impact connectivity that we’ll be damned fools to turn our backs on. Come on, guys. Form a city/university committee to start looking at the feasibility of acquiring this tremendous resource and putting it to use.
Let’s not miss any more of these opportunities that present themselves. No regrets. “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”
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