On most film location tours, groups see places where movies were shot. But in Albany, Georgia, they can also meet some of the people who starred in them.
Albany is home to Sherwood Baptist Church, a large congregation that started its own film studio, Sherwood Pictures, in 2002. Since then, the studio has produced a number of films that found big success in the faith-based market, including “Facing the Giants,” “Courageous” and “Fireproof.”
Today, groups visiting Albany can take a tour that highlights places and people featured in those movies.
“One of the most popular things for church groups is doing our Sherwood Film Tour,” said. Rashelle Beasly, director of the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau. “‘Courageous’ and ‘Fireproof’ were filmed here in Albany. One of the lead actors who played a police officer in ‘Courageous’ gives the tour.”
The tour takes about 90 minutes. During the course of the outing, groups will see numerous places that were used in the filming of the Sherwood movies and learn more about what the filming experience was like for locals.
“They go to the fire station that’s in ‘Fireproof,’” Beasly said. “Some of the firefighters from the movie are still employed at that fire station, so they talk about their experiences. Then the tour goes to the railroad crossing where one of the major scenes was filmed. After that, they go to the store out where the robbery happened in ‘Courageous.’ Sherwood also did a football movie called ‘Facing the Giants,’ so they take visitors out to the football field and the school.”
Many church groups who come for the film tour make a weekend of the experience. They can take the tour on Saturday, then attend a service at Sherwood Baptist Church on Sunday morning. The CVB can also arrange for groups to have lunch at Sherwood after the service ends.
In addition to the Sherwood activities, church groups visiting Albany can learn about the area’s civil rights heritage, pay homage to local son Ray Charles, explore a wooded wildlife park and get to know the fish and animals of Georgia’s rivers at a local aquarium.
Albany Civil Rights Institute
Perhaps the most famous attraction in town is the Albany Civil Rights Institute. The museum uses images, newspaper articles and oral histories to teach visitors about the struggle for racial equality that took place in Albany and throughout the South.
After touring the museum, groups can visit the adjacent Old Mount Zion Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke. On the second Saturday of each month, the church hosts a concert featuring Rutha Harris, an Albany local who toured the world as one of the original Freedom Singers. Harris and her friends tell stories from the civil rights movement and perform some of the songs from that time. Church groups can arrange private performances with advance notice.
The Flint River runs through Albany, and the city’s downtown district sits on the riverbanks. Groups can stop to see the Albany Welcome Center, which occupies an 1867 bridge house on the riverbank. The welcome center has a 12-minute introductory film and historical exhibits, as well as a gift shop.
From there, visitors can take the short stroll down the Flint River Walk to Ray Charles Plaza. Charles was born in Albany, and the city honors him with a larger-than-life statue of him singing at a piano. The statue slowly rotates in a complete circle, and a speaker at its base plays some of his most popular songs on a continuous loop.
Zoo at Chehaw
Chehaw is a city-owned park that spans 700 acres of woodland on the outskirts of Albany. Part of that space is a 100-acre zoo that features large, free-range animal habitats. Groups can tour the zoo with a guide to see some of the 21 alligators in the swamp area, including “Big Charlie, who is more than 13 feet long. The zoo also offers interactive demonstrations with various animals, such as a pair of Bactrian camels.
The zoo also offers a safari experience, during which visitors encounter zebras, impalas, rhinoceroses and other animals from Africa.
Groups touring Albany should include time to visit the Flint RiverQuarium, which highlights the fish and animals that are native to the Flint River as well as creatures from the Gulf of Mexico, where the river ends. The highlight of the aquarium is its 175,000-gallon, open-air blue hole spring exhibit that features hundreds of different aquatic species.
In addition to the blue hole spring, the aquarium features a caverns exhibit with a re-created cave that showcases subterranean creatures and an aviary with quail, ducks and numerous other species of birds native to the area.