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Family secrets inspire book, made-in-Atlanta movie

A077BnQCIAE0S_2Imagine finding out members of your family had been drinkers and fighters whose lucrative business operated a little left of the law.

You could A. Suppress this information and hope it never surfaced, especially if you had political aspirations; B. Ink a deal with a reality show and hope your kinfolk’s antics would pave the way for your new fashion line; or C. Research the matter, write a compelling historical novel about it and then watch your words turn to action on the big screen when the book became a movie.

Matt Bondurant went that last route. He is the author of “The Wettest County in the World,” based on the exploits of his grandfather Jack Bondurant and great-uncles Howard and Forrest Bondurant. The movie adaptation, called “Lawless,” was filmed south of Atlanta and is set for an Aug. 29 release.

“The way they captured the essence, setting and detail was excellent,” said Matt Bondurant, who was in Atlanta recently on a tour promoting the book and movie. “My father visited the set with me during the shooting and he was really impressed.”

The movie stars Shia LaBeouf as Jack and Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke as Forrest and Howard. Also starring are Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce and Jessica Chastain. Fans of the long-running play “Peachtree Battle” will recognize Anna House, who plays the boozy Azalea Wieuca on stage at the Ansley Park Playhouse, in a bit role early in the movie.

Author Matt Bondurant

Author Matt Bondurant

Bondurant, also the author of “The Night Swimmer” and “The Third Translation,” framed the outline of the book from newspaper accounts of his forebears, whose Virginia moonshining operation brought them into frequent and violent encounters with law enforcement. He filled in the rest from his imagination.

“There’s no letters or diaries. No one kept journals,” Bondurant said, explaining the need to weave fact and fiction. “Times were tough. People didn’t spend time recording their daily activities. They had other things going on.”

Pivotal scenes in the movie are backed up by newspaper accounts, and his late grandfather did reveal an ancient bullet-wound scar, but there was not much else in the way of family lore.

220px-Wettestcountyfrontcover“There was very little said about this kind of thing,” Bondurant said. “There was a general notion that my grandfather had been involved in the moonshine trade. If you’re involved in moonshine you don’t really talk about it. The majority of it came from research.”

Speaking of research, we asked the obvious question: Does Bondurant drink moonshine?

“I have sampled it for research,” he said. “But the official line is, of course, nobody in my family that I know makes or sells any illegal distilled spirits.”

- Jennifer Brett/The Buzz/jbrett@ajc.com

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August 22nd, 2012
8:04 pm

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