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By the Way: Haycock cinematographer puts focus on America’s heroes


Ralf W. Augstroze watched carefully in the April sunlight as colorful scenes of “The American Miracle” were being filmed at Washington Crossing Historic Park.

He was overseeing camera crews working with Daniel Shippey, the actor who portrays George Washington in the movie, and a Durham boat carrying historically accurate costumed reenactors.

Augstroze said the scene on the banks of the Delaware River would be massaged back at the studio to change day to night and create the appearance of an icy wind-ripped river on Christmas Night 1776.

Chief operating officer and one of three executive producers of Heroic Pictures, the Haycock Township cinematographer said the film is based on Michael Medved’s book, “The American Miracle.”

In his book, Medved, a New York Times bestselling author, documented many moments of crisis in the founding and growth of the young democracy. They were times when the odds against success seemed overwhelming, with disaster almost insured, until suddenly fate intervened, overturning the odds.

While historians often point to each of these incidents as a happy accident, Medved and many historians and scholars think divine providence was guiding the American experiment. This is not a new idea. Washington himself once referred to “the invisible hand to conduct the affairs of men.”

Citing just one instance that some have attributed to “the hand of God,” Augstroze said after the bitter defeat of Washington’s forces in the Battle of Long Island the Americans escaped “under the nose of the surrounding British” only because a dense fog “came out of nowhere and settled over the East River and all of Brooklyn,” allowing the troops to cross the river unseen to safety in Manhattan. “The providential fog lifted just after the last of the rebels escaped,” he said.

For Augstroze, a two-time Emmy nominee, who studied cinematography at the University of Miami, making movies is a dream come true, a kind of closing of a circle. During his career, spanning years in the international business world, financial services and the federal government, he had always had his eye on film-making. Forming a company with two former colleagues, who also wanted to celebrate heroes, has made the movie happen.

The crossing scene was filmed at its actual site with an eye to accuracy. The film in general is based on the painstaking scholarship of the country’s most respected historians, Augstroze said.

He noted the movie has been filmed all over the United States with some interior scenes shot at an exact replica of Independence Hall at Houston Baptist University.

Augstroze said he had walked in on one Constitutional Convention scene there.

“It looked so real. There was George Washington, Ben Franklin, James Madison — it was chilling,” he said.

“These are the stories we want to tell, the stories of real heroes from history who reached for something much larger than themselves,” Augstroze said.

Now with most of the production completed, a Hollywood musician is working on the score. After it is completed, the music will be performed by the Liepja Symphony Orchestra in Latvia.

Augstroze, the first of his family born in America, has maintained close ties with Latvia. His daughter, Lija, who graduated from the Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Arts before earning academic degrees in Europe, is a violinist in the orchestra, the oldest in the Baltic states.

After emigrating from Latvia, the family eventually settled in Haycock. There, Augstroze’s grandfather became pastor at the Bucks County Latvian Baptist Church in Applebachsville.

“The American Miracle” will be released in theaters nationwide around July 4, 2025, in anticipation of the nation’s 250th anniversary. The producers are considering venues in either Bucks County or the Lehigh Valley for its premiere.

“You know on some movies you see a label reading ‘Based on a True Story’ under the title?” Augstroze asked. “Well, this is a true story.”

Kathryn Finegan Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Durham Township. She can be reached at

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