Big screen production ‘White Water,’ true tale of an Opelika native, begins filming
By Laurel Callaway
A restored bus dating back to 1955 was parked in an open field off of Stonewall Road in Opelika last week. Upon first glance, one would think it had a story to tell. However, many would not guess that this very bus was the birthplace of the Rosa Parks story, which served as a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.
It seemed fitting that this iconic bus would be used in the backdrop for production of the motion picture “White Water,” which is currently being filmed in Opelika. “White Water” is an adaptation of the children’s book by the same name which tells the true story of Opelika native Michael Bandy. The book was co-written with Eric Stein.
In the summer of 1963, not many years after Parks’ courageous act on the front of that bus, a then 9-year-old Bandy made his own bold move. He snuck over to the “whites only” drinking fountain, only to realize it was not what he had expected.
“I saw the fountains, both black and white, being fed by the same pipes,” Bandy said.
The story, according to information provided by the production company, is about perception.
“I think that real, just microscopic look at this one family and this little boy, it just sort of tells the story of that era,” said Barry Shebaka Henley, an actor whose character plays a father figure to Michael.
Filming in Opelika gives the movie a great deal of authenticity; not simply because the story takes place in Opelika but because so much of the landscape remains the same.
“There are parts of the city (of Opelika) that are untouched and really feel like they’re right out of the ’60s. We’re having a great time,” said Sharon Leal, who plays Michael’s mother Annie.
The cast and crew are not the only ones enjoying the experience. According to Pam Powers-Smith, director of Opelika Mainstreet, having production in Opelika has been fun and exciting.
“I’m glad to have them downtown. I look forward to seeing who the extras are and am thankful they have hired some local people to help with production. They have been really nice and complimentary of Opelika,” she said.
Some of those extras include Bandy’s own family members. Bandy’s mother and sisters were part of the bus scene. His mother, Eddie Pearl Sanford, said that seeing her son’s book and life experience become a movie brought a tear to her eye, and sister Deborah Banks beamed with pride over her brother’s accomplishments.
Novelette Seroyer, an extra in the movie, brought her copy of “White Water” to the set with her in hopes of having it signed.
“I went out and bought the book yesterday,” Seroyer said. “It’s such a good children’s book. It’s unbelievable to be able to be a part of this film.”
The movie release date is scheduled for February 2015, with a special premiere in Opelika.
“Observer” Assistant Editor Rebekah Martin contributed to this feature.