When a new version of Another Way of Living: The Story of Reston VA was shown to about 500 viewers at Reston Community Center Hunters Woods on Thursday, there were more than a few tears shed by audience members touched at seeing the final story of Reston founder Bob Simon, who died in September at age 101.
Director Rebekah Wingert-Jabi has been working on the documentary for nearly five years. A previous version was shown at RCC in April of 2014 during the celebration events of Simon’s 100th birthday and Reston’s 50th anniversary.
The newer version was shown at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville earlier this month. It will likely be screened again in Reston in April, as well as in future film festivals, said Wingert-Jabi.
Some major things have happened since the spring of 2014: Metro’s Silver Line finally opened (in July 2014), linking Reston — once considered “the end of nowhere,” as someone in the movie said — with downtown DC; the development in progress spurred by the transit system; and, of course, Simon’s death.
“We wanted to flesh out key moments in Reston,” Wingert-Jabi said of the revisions. “We wanted people to understand more of what happened in the years Simon wasn’t here (1967-92), about Mobil Land’s role in developing Reston Town Center.”
The final edit of the 70-minute film will make the movie more appealing to people less familiar with Reston. The previous version had many more original Restonians talking about the pioneer spirit in moving to Simon’s “new town” in the mid-60s. The point still gets across in the new version, but added is more historical and architectural context.
The film is big on historic photos and documents. There’s Simon and his sisters playing in Riverside Park in Manhattan and touring Europe, which served as the inspiration of his suburban community built around a town piazza.
There’s an original sketch of the Town Center concept from the 1960s, which looks like Walt Disney’s outline for Tomorrowland at Disneyland. Reston Town Center of course was eventually built, opening in the fall of 1990. It’s revolutionary street-grid design and downtown “anti-mall” in the suburbs gets proper credit in the film.
Getting from point A to today is also well explained. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger explains the “sense of ailenation” many suburbanites felt by the mid-1960s.
“Bob Simon said ‘I bet I can do it another way,’ ” Goldberger says.
So Simon, with the proceeds from selling his share of Carnegie Hall to the City of New York, purchased — on the cheap — about 7,000 acres of Virginia farmland. Simon envisioned high-density housing such as apartments and townhomes. That would leave room for more open space. Oh yes, and in Virginia, a southern state that closed the public schools rather than integrate them, we will make the community open to all. Fifty banks turned down Simon.
The movie explains why oil companies such as Gulf, and later Mobil, were involved in real estate at the time. They had tons of money to invest.
When it came to Reston, Gulf wasn’t earning it back fast enough. In 1967, Simon was fired, and much of Reston that came after Lake Anne Village Center and very early housing clusters was built in a more traditional suburban fashion.
The updated film also looks at the future. Will lower-income residents be priced out of homes here? What will new development around Wiehle-Reston East Metro look like?
And finally, how will Simon be remembered? Now that he has died, the footage of him taking his daily walks at Lake Anne, greeting neighbors and wisecracking not only captures his spirit for those who knew him, it will make a great archive for a new generation to meet him as well.
Award-winning filmmaker Wingert-Jabi, of Reston, has been working on the film for more than two years.
The documentary explores founder Robert Simonʼs unique vision for American life. While 1950s post-war suburban sprawl prioritized single-family homes, Simon dreamed ʻanother way of livingʼ that valued community, nature and social equity.
Simon set out to build a suburban town that integrated citizens across racial and economic divides. It wasn’t always an easy ride.
Many longtime Restonians are interviewed in the film, which also uses historical photos and items. Wingert-Jabi has filmed more than 250 hours of footage to create the 72-minute movie.
Wingert-Jabi says she hopes the legacy of Simon, who died last month at age 101, will live on through this film.
“The film shows how Simon’s vision was so powerful and touched upon such basic human values that it not only influenced the way the suburbs were developed in America but also guided the development of Reston over the last 50 years,” she says.
A rough cut of the film was screened for Reston VIPs in 2014 as part of Simon’s 100th birthday celebrations. Wingert-Jabi said much more work has been put into editing the film into its current format.
She said she is excited the film will be premiering here in Virginia.
“From the beginning, Reston was shaped by its Virginia context and it continues to grow in that context today,” she said. “The University of Virginia is an ideal setting to have a conversation about how Simon’s vision developed over 50 years and how it can inform community development moving forward.”
The screening will be followed by a conversation with Urban Land Institute Global CEO, Patrick Phillips; Virginia State Senator and Reston Resident, Janet Howell; Reston’s first salesman, Chuck Veatch; director Wingert-Jabi; and the University of Virginiaʼs Chair of the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, Tim Beatley.