KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Former Tennessee Film Commissioner Patricia Ledford brought the filming of the movie “The River” to East Tennessee 35 years ago.
Parts of the movie were filmed in Kingsport and Rogersville. Actors Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek starred in the film.
On Monday, the Kingsport Historical Society celebrated the 35th anniversary of the movie’s filming by surprising the former film commissioner.
Following a showing of an ABC News 20/20 special about “The River,” Ledford was greeted by child movie star and Rogersville native Shane Bailey.
“I was just shocked when I found out he was here and got to give him a hug,” said Ledford, “he’s been a remarkable man in his own right, way beyond the film.”
At 12 years old, Bailey starred as Lewis Garvey, Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek’s son in the movie.
Bailey’s father had read about the open role and took his son to audition.
“It seemed like overnight,” he said, “I was just thrusted into this dream world and for four-months, it was life you really can’t explain.”
Bailey credits Ledford with making an impact in the region economically.
“There’s a whole different side to that part of the movie,” he said, “the hard work that went into competing with 18 other states and landing that here in Hawkins County and Sullivan County.”
“It’s a job I took reluctantly, but as I got into it, I would go to L.A. about six weeks a year, two weeks at a time and see 50 people a week and call on producers and studio heads and such,” said Ledford. “Fortunately, Mark Rydell decided he wanted to take a look here.”
Kingsport Historical Society’s Tim Mullen said the reunion timed out perfectly with the 35th anniversary of the movie’s filming.
“I knew this area hadn’t got to thank her for everything she did for it economically,” said Mullen, “as well as relationships that evolved out of the whole movie so it just seemed that everything fit prefect.”
Ledford says she recently had Bailey in mind as the movie approached its 35th anniversary, which she said makes the reunion even more surreal to her.