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Jim and Jenn Chandler go over details with Walker County Public Relation Director Joe Legge and a member of the crew. The county, as well as numerous individuals and businesses in and around Chickamauga and Walker County have provided goods and services for the film, often at no charge, Chandler said.

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'The Farmer and the Belle'

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Film being shot locally stars Sandra Lafferty, John Schneider, Henry Cho and Jenn Gotzon Chandler and husband Jim E. Chandler

Candlelight Ridge, a new wedding venue located in Cloudland Station in Chattanooga Valley was a beehive of activity Friday morning, but it wasn't people getting ready for a wedding.

The people working hard Friday weren't even preparing for a wedding. They were transforming the stone house near the pavilion and rows of chairs set up on the lawn for a wedding into a Christmas wonderland, complete with holiday-themed trinkets on the knee wall separating the living and dining rooms and roaring yule in the fireplace.

It looked like something out of a Hallmark movie, which was exactly the idea. The house was being used as the set for a feature-length film called "The Farmer and the Belle: Saving Santa Land." Co-producers and co-writers Jenn Gotzon Chandler and husband Jim E. Chandler hope to sell the film to the Hallmark Channel, and the scene being shot Friday featured all of the Christmas lights twinkling in soft lighting that fans of the sugary-sweet movies know and love.

You know the story: Two people fall in love as youngsters, separate for a number of years, and for whatever reason, usually a divorce or a death, find themselves back together in a small and picturesque town where everybody not only knows them, but knows they should be together. And, of course, that's how they end up. And it all happens around the holidays.

"It's Christmas, Christmas, Christmas and then a little more Christmas to make it sweeter," said director Wes Llewellyn of the Hallmark formula.

"They are films that make you feel good. Make you feel warm. They make you think about family and giving and hot cocoa, and that's what this is."

"The Farmer and the Belle" takes on a deeper, more current topic in the process, Jenn Gotzon Chandler said. The idea for the movie about a super model who finds love on a pig farm came while she was working as a model working in China and visited Jim Chandler's family farm and discovered what a "pig slop jar" was.

"My husband helped me understand what true love and true beauty is. When I entered onto his family farm, I had never seen a pig, much less fed a pig. They had these pig slop jars, you know, where you scrape the leftovers into a jar for the pigs. When they opened it, I was like, 'Wooyuuck'" she said.

As she spoke, technicians worked to set up lights and cameramen and women framed their shots inside the house. Just outside the side door, a "video tent" had been set up to monitor the audio and video as it was being shot.

In the pavilion, actresses Livi Birch, who plays Young Belle, and Sandra Lafferty, who plays Grammy, got their microphones placed and tested and final adjustments to their wardrobes.

"This is just an old ugly sweater I had," Lafferty said with a laugh.

Her credits include playing Maybelle Carter in "Walk the Line" and a hob vendor in "The Hunger Games." Other stars include John Schneider of "Dukes of Hazzard" fame, Corbin Bersen from "L.A. Law" and "Psych" and Knoxville-based comedian/actor Henry Cho.

Lafferty said she loves the message behind the movie.

"I like everything about this movie, especially the message that it sends to young girls about how important they are and how their importance is based on more than beauty; that it's what's inside that counts," she said. "They are just as smart as anyone and they can do anything they want."

While Jim Chandler only lived in the Chattanooga Valley for seven years, his family has lived there for more than a century and continues to operate New Dawn Farm and Camp New Dawn, a Christian summer camp, on the family property just down the road in McLemore Cove.

He stressed that the film would not be possible without the help and support of people and businesses in the area. He also said the budget for the film doesn't qualify it for state incentives.

"This movie is not possible without the support of the community," Jim Chandler said.

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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