Long before Pinewood Atlanta Studios was a kernel of an idea or Ant-Man was even the thought of as a movie, the south side of Atlanta had already berthed its first blockbuster. In 1977, filmed on just $4.3 million dollars, many scenes rolling up GA-54 between Fayetteville and Jonesboro, Smokey and the Bandit would go on to rake in $300 million, second only that year to small French film called Star Wars. The film’s following is still alive and well, and last week’s run of 40th Anniversary festivities kept its memory alive. Blame it on the gorgeous black Trans Am that purrs like a kitten.
Starting in Texarkana, Texas, the annual Bandit Run brings together Trans Am owners to make the same length trek as in the movie, with this year’s special trip featuring a convoy of 300 cars convening in Jonesboro, the site for many of the film’s key scenes, for several days of fun. On their way and in between the festivities, most of the cars called Peachtree City home, flooding the local hotels with classic muscle cars, heavy on the Pontiacs, of course.
Thursday kicked off with packed bus tours of area filming locations. Friday brought a recreation along Jonesboro’s Main Street of a scene in what was a beer warehouse in Texarkana in the movie and is now the Arts Clayton gallery. There was a Q&A and later a stunt show recreating some of the most spectacular moments.
Burt Reynolds, star of the film, was there along with other cast members like Caye Barnett. Barnett, who played one of “Snowman” Jerry Reed’s daughters in the film, was astonished at the number of people eager to meet her from her lone taste of Hollywood.
“I had absolutely no idea that this many people love this movie this much. I really, really didn’t,” said Barnett. “It has totally floored me. I took a million pictures (with fans) it seems like.”
While the real Burt Reynolds was the star of the show, there were a number of those in Bandit character helping play key roles in the recreations, like John Sandifer. He has his own Trans Am up and running, and was touched by the atmosphere of the fans.
“To me, it’s a movie about freedom,” Sandifer said. “It’s great be to able to get together, and it’s good to know everybody still has that spirit in them.”
The crowds flooding Jonesboro were friendly and full of fun, enough that it might become a yearly tradition for the city.
“We’re thrilled, and, really, the celebration is just beginning,” said Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day at the Main Street party, noting that the city received inquiries from all over the world. They also sold out of official celebration shirts and are ordering more. “It’s really what we’re about. Jonesboro is about families and good fun.”
A little movie about bootlegging and car chases was a phenomenon in theaters 40 years ago. Flash forward to today, and the love is still there. An iconic car and little bit of fun will keep it alive for a long time.