Amsterdam’s the common denominator in a ‘road movie’ about Americans

BOTETOURT – White Oak Tea Tavern between Daleville and Fincastle turned into a quasi office for two Dutch filmmakers and their two-man film crew when they were in Botetourt late last week and over the weekend.

It was an appropriate location, and not incidental.

From left, filmmakers Rob Rombout, Rogier van Eck, Colin Bannon and Ben Wolf make plans with Botetourt Tourism Director Kevin Costello on the porch of Ikenberry’s Orchards Saturday morning. Photo by Ed McCoy
From left, filmmakers Rob Rombout, Rogier van Eck, Colin Bannon and Ben Wolf make plans with Botetourt Tourism Director Kevin Costello on the porch of Ikenberry’s Orchards Saturday morning. Photo by Ed McCoy

Rob Rombout and Rogier van Eck are making “a road movie,” a documentary about Amsterdams—the American communities named after Amsterdam, Netherlands where the two Brussels filmmakers grew up.

They were here because Botetourt’s Amsterdam is one of 16 Amsterdam cities, towns and communities that are located coast-to-coast where the filmmakers will be interviewing regular Americans for their documentary “Amsterdam Stories USA.”

The Tea Tavern—the 1783 log structure known as the Cloyd House—was saved from demolition when Jim and Lisa Farmer moved it in the mid-1990s from Amsterdam to its present location north on US 220.

It certainly will play a central part in the documentary because it was the backdrop for several film sessions with locals connected to Amsterdam.

New Yorkers Colin Bannon and Ben Wolf make up the film crew that’s traveling with Rombout and van Eck.

For the Dutch filmmakers, this road movie is a chance to get to know America better.

They actually didn’t spend much time in Amsterdam proper. Of course, Amsterdam lends its name to one of the county’s five election districts. Amsterdam proper is almost lost in Boteoturt.

The Amsterdam road sign on US 220 is gone, although the Amsterdam church still bears the community name.

It’s history, though, dates to the 1740s, and the filmmakers spent some time in the Botetourt County Clerk’s Office and Historical Society Museum in Fincastle looking at some of the historic documents there. Botetourt Historical Society member Cathy Benson and others talked to them about the community history, but the film’s won’t be a historic collection.

What the filmmakers find fascinating is people’s reactions to their interest in the Amsterdam communities.

“People are surprised we are coming to these places. They tell us there’s nothing to see,” Rombout said. “It has to do with a very American way of thinking. You just don’t come up to places like that.”

But it seems they are finding what they’re looking for. Even a reluctant interview with Louise Harriston could make it into the film. She was born and raised in Amsterdam, and is among the few old enough to remember much about the community before US 220 bypassed it.

She wouldn’t go on film and wouldn’t allow a photograph during an interview in Gwen Ikenberry’s office at Ikenberry’s Orchards just south of Amsterdam Saturday morning.

Afterward, the filmmakers discussed how they might work the interview into the film while waiting on the porch at the orchard store and contemplating their next move.

They decided Bannon and Wolf would stop for footage in Amsterdam where they learned there are two graveyards (not just the one “white” cemetery) while Rombout and van Eck met with a reporter at White Oak Tea Tavern.

Rogier van Eck says the Amsterdam theme is “a passport to discover America.”

They both were finding their encounter with Botetourt interesting. They still had interviews to do, and complimented Kevin Costello for the groundwork he’d done before they arrived.

Costello is Botetourt County’s director of tourism, and he’d set up some interviews and locations the filmmakers could use in developing a portrait of the local Amsterdam.

“Amsterdam Stories USA” is the second in what the two filmmakers plan as a trilogy. Their first was “Amsterdam Via Amsterdam” (1996-2004). It won three prizes in the US and  was a sea expedition from the Dutch capital to the two islands of the same name at the globe’s northern and southern extremities.

The third documentary will be “Amsterdam Black & White” which they hope to film in 2013-2014. It will be a dual portrait of New Amsterdam villages, one in the province of Drenthe in the north of Holland, the other in Transvaal, South Africa.

Rombout and van Eck are both film teachers, which they said allows them some freedom to entertain this kind of project.

They are already assured they have a market for their documentary that they expect to be two and four hours long since they have television funding backing the project. It will air on several TV stations in Europe first. They hope, too, it will be seen on American television as well. They believe PBS will be an appropriate venue.

Having a market is an important component for any filmmaker because it takes money to produce a film.

Rombout said American radio will be an important element in the film. As an example, they were interviewed last week by Fred Echols for a program on WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke. They expect to use those types of interviews to introduce each Amsterdam.

Rombout said this will not be a Discovery Channel kind of film. “In Europe, we hardly know America,” he said. “So we call it the unknown America.” It’s not about New York or the West Coast.

That’s important because it’s not a film anyone else has done. “We’re sure no one else is doing this film,” he added, while noting they are now experts on Amsterdam.

Those wanting to follow the story about putting the film together can do so on the film’s blog. They make regular entries, including one about their visit to Botetourt. To keep up or learn more about the film and the filmmakers, go to

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