Larimer brings his great-great grandparents’ Civil War letters to life in “Love and Valor”

Charles F. Larimer aims to bring his great-great grandparents’ Civil War experiences to big and small screens with “Love and Valor,” his “documentary/art film” now in production, with narration from Brian Dennehy.

“?Love and Valor’ tells the story of a Union soldier who longs to return to his wife and family in Iowa, but not before he helps end slavery, preserve the Union and win the war,” Larimer said.

Larimer is adapting the film from his own self-published 2000 book, “Love and Valor ? Intimate Civil War Letters Between Captain Jacob and Emeline Ritner.”

He edited the 450-page collection from letters his great-great-grandparents, the Ritners, wrote to one another during the war, combined with news clippings and other historical documents.

The book has won widespread recognition among Civil War scholars. Georgia Public TV used excerpts in its 2002 series “Georgia’s Civil War” and Studs Terkel incorporated some of the letters in his 2001 Memorial Day radio special “War Letters.”

“Jacob and Emeline were very articulate in explaining their feelings in a way that modern people could look back and feel empathy,” Larimer said.

“The tough thing [about the adaptation] was deciding who gets included in the movie,” he continued. “A lot of these people have become very near and dear to me, and I’ve felt very guilty sometimes, having to cut someone out who actually died in the Civil War.”

“Love and Valor”

Most of the film is silent reenactments with historical narration from Dennehy, and actors reading directly from the letters. These scenes will be interspersed with Larimer’s “ghost stories,” footage of Larimer at the graves of people depicted in the film, explaining how he uncovered their histories.

Larimer started shooting “Love and Valor” in Iowa last fall on 24P DV. After a winter hiatus, production has resumed this spring in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin, with a cast of up to 40, including several scenes aboard riverboats on the Mississippi River. In August he’ll film his actors in a 1,000-person battlefield reenactment in Boscobel, Wisconsin.

“Part of the challenge is that some of these groups are very skittish about outside people coming in and filming them,” Larimer said. “It helps that I’m also a Civil War expert.”

Larimer is self-financing the $75,000-80,000 budget from his work as an actuary. He’s producing through his Sigourney Press, which he founded to publish the book.

Larimer aims to complete “Love and Valor” by next summer and take it on the festival circuit, hopefully followed by an arthouse theatrical release before he sells the film for broadcast on PBS or the History Channel. “I hope to be broadcast across the country, starting with selected markets” like Iowa and Georgia, where much of the film is set.

Brian Pittman and Ann Cejka star as Jacob and Emeline, and have also been active in casting and location scouting. DPs are Juan Lopez and Charles Zehner. AD is Sue Klopfenstein.

Larimer is also at work on a narrative feature screenplay, based on audio recordings his uncle made of rural life in Scotland.