Hilton Head man directs film about Sherman’s Civil War campaign

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Walter Czura led an interesting life.

Born in Augusta, Georgia, he went to law school and received a bachelor’s degree in South Carolina. But in the 1980s, he was caught up in Operation Jackpot, an FBI investigation into an $850 million marijuana smuggling ring in Hilton Head that ended in the arrest of more than 200 “gentlemans smugglers” and launched the career of then-US Attorney Henry. McMaster.

In 1982, Czura pleaded guilty to conspiring to import over 1,000 pounds of marijuana and was eventually disbarred; he appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court in 1985 and lost.

So the former lawyer got into the billboard business by founding Marlin Outdoor Advertising. Over the past four decades, he has installed more than a thousand billboards in South Carolina and Georgia, leading campaigns for RBC Heritage presented by Boeing, Cracker Barrel, Hilton Head Boathouse and McDonald’s.

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Walter Czura, president of Marlin Outdoor Advertising, served as executive producer and co-writer of “Sherman’s March to the Sea.” Denarius Group

But behind big moves, there was always one constant: writing. When Czura was fresh out of law school and working delivery jobs in the Caribbean, he wrote a novel about environmental sabotage and sold a pilot to a TV station.

“A lot of lawyers become writers,” he said, citing John Grisham and David Baldacci as examples. “It was natural.”

In 2017, he pitched a script to a Hollywood actor and producer. It was accepted by an independent film distributor, but they pulled out just as production was about to begin, Czura said.

So for his next project, a film about Union General William Sherman’s bloody “march to the sea” from Atlanta to Savannah in 1864, he decided to go completely independent. He hired Christopher Forbes, another Augusta native who made more than 30 films, including several about the Civil War.

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Christopher Forbes directed “Sherman’s March to the Sea”. Denarius Group

“Something like Sherman — I mean, god damn it,” Czura said of the film’s subject matter. “You know about him. It’s so geographically and culturally relevant. You’re talking about 62,000 troops from Atlanta to Savannah 60 miles across, the greatest military campaign in American history, you’re fighting your fellow Americans. He had more soldiers than Julius Caesar.

Czura didn’t want to make the film a documentary — “I don’t want to be Ken Burns,” he said.

Instead, he focused on specific moments in the campaign, including a massacre at Ebenezer Creek when Union soldiers raised a bridge behind them, leaving nearly 100 freedmen following the army to drown. crossing the creek or be captured by Confederate troops.

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Executive producer Walter Czura and director Christopher Forbes filmed Civil War reenactments in Aiken, South Carolina, for their film “Sherman’s March to the Sea.” Denarius Group / Fortress Films

Czura helped conduct research for the film, titled “Sherman’s March to the Sea”, and served as its executive producer. He co-wrote the screenplay with Forbes, the director. They began filming in February 2021, drawing on Forbes’ longstanding relationships with Civil War re-enactors to film major battle scenes.

They traveled to the 27th annual Battle of Aiken re-enactment and recruited Hampton County re-enactors for the film, acting alongside Jezibell Anat, Charles Gabel and Dakare Chatman, among others.

Forbes premiered the 92-minute, $1.25 million film at Augusta’s 2022 Poison Peach Film Festival earlier this month. Czura said it was “surreal” to return to his hometown theater after 50 years and see people paying to watch his film.

Right now, audiences have no way to watch “Sherman’s March to the Sea.” Czura is in the process of securing a streaming and DVD distribution deal for the film.

He is also working on a new project: a film about Operation Jackpot, for which he hopes to obtain a larger budget and casting.

“Fortune favors the bold,” he said. “Basically, I’m from an optimistic point of view.”

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(Left to right) Paul Clayton, Jerry Chesser and Russell Dobson were part of the cast of “Sherman’s March to the Sea.” Denarius Group / Fortress Films

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Rachel Jones covers education for the Island Packet and the Beaufort Gazette. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and worked for the Daily Tar Heel and Charlotte Observer. She has won awards from the South Carolina Press Association, Associated College Press, and North Carolina College Media Association for news writing and education reporting.

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