This Golden Globe-nominated film starring Jodie Foster tells the story of Nell, a woman raised in isolation on the mountains of North Carolina. The local doctor, played by Liam Neeson, finds Nell after the death of her mother. Nell’s speech and behavior prompt the doctor to seek the help of a researcher, played by Neeson’s late wife, Natasha Richardson. She and her colleague assume Nell is autistic, and file a court order to institutionalize her for further study. Liam Neeson’s character, Jerry Lovell, hires a lawyer to fight the court order and wins, forcing the researchers to study Nell in her own environment.
Watch the trailer for this award-winning film:
Nell’s “environment” was shot at Fontana Lake, a reservoir on the Little Tennessee River at the southern end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of the most remote areas of the park, like the Hazel Creek trailhead, can only be accessed from Fontana Lake. Though a lot of the footage shows Nell in a foggy, somewhat mysterious setting, park visitors can clearly see the lake from a mile above at the observation tower on Clingmans Dome on sunny summer days. The dome also has the distinction of being the highest point along the Appalachian Trail, allowing for panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains.
Unfortunately, the rustic cabin where Jerry finds Nell has since been torn down by the National Forest Service for safety reasons, but the foundation can still be seen at the lake’s edge. If you’ve seen this critically acclaimed film, you’ll recognize the nearby cove where Jodie Foster emerges from the lake.
Cover image by Upstateherd is licensed under (CC BY-SA 4.0).