River Hill: a chronicle of community change Couple making documentary film


Soon after Sue Furman moved to Columbia's newest village, she would spend hours on the phone with River Hill's developer and county officials tracking down information about community development issues.

It made her wonder whether there was a better way to inform the groups with a stake in the growing community -- old and new residents, the developer and county officials -- of development plans and to address growth-related problems.

That question became the genesis of a documentary film Hal and Sue Furman are making about River Hill, chronicling the development of the village and examining how change affects established communities and how distinct communities can be brought together.

Mr. Furman, 36, a technical director at CBS' Washington bureau, received a $1,600 grant from the county Cable Advisory Committee to produce the film for Cable 15, Howard County government's information channel. Mr. Furman applied for the grant under the cable channel's public access program, which allows county residents to produce and air their own shows. Grants are for expenses, not salaries.

Mr. Furman is doing the shooting and interviewing; Mrs. Furman, 36, is handling much of the research and production work. The Furmans were among the earliest River Hill settlers, moving to the community near Clarksville in April 1992.

The film will attempt to trace River Hill's development from concept to construction and how affected parties perceived those plans.

"I would like people to come away from viewing the documentary asking more questions about their neighbors and about the process of how a community is developed," Mr. Furman said.

Mrs. Furman discovered that the development of the new community was a "shock" to residents living along Trotter Road, a narrow, winding street with a rural character that will serve as River Hill's main artery. The Rouse Co., River Hill's developer, projects that Columbia's 10th and final village will have more than 200 houses by the end of this year and nearly 1,700 dwellings by 1998.

"It's asking them to change their way of life," Mrs. Furman said. "Some have horses, and some like being two acres back in the woods. They moved here for a reason. Some have said, 'We love Columbia, but let Columbia stay in Columbia, and let Clarksville stay the way it is.' "

Traffic and the design of Trotter Road are controversial issues that have brought parties together to consider the effects of growth.

Mr. Furman hopes to complete field work and editing on the 60-minute film, tentatively titled "The Last Village," by mid-December. In the next few weeks, he plans to interview River Hill residents and shoot at some key locations, such as the adjoining 1,100-acre Middle Patuxent Environmental Area and an old Trotter Road bridge.

"Technically, I'm interested in trying to do this for myself," said Mr. Furman, whose CBS job entails coordinating visual images from a control room for live television programs. "At work, a lot of what I do is instantaneous. I never sit down and produce an entire program myself. It's always a team putting things together."

He has completed interviews with several key figures, including County Councilman Paul Farragut, D-4th; David Forester, the Rouse Co.'s senior development director; and Al and Shirley Geis, Clarksville residents who formed a watchdog group.

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