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ODU's "Our Nation" Featured in PBS Online Film Festival

PBS launched its annual online film festival this week, and the Old Dominion University-produced film "Our Nation" is one of the selected features being shown through July 28.

The 10-minute film debuted in 2015 at the "Birth of an Answer" event at Norfolk's Attucks Theatre, which was commissioned by Old Dominion. The event sought to explore the portrayal and participation of African-Americans in film over the past century and to be a response to the controversial 1915 film "Birth of a Nation" that is widely regarded as portraying African-Americans in a racist viewpoint.

"Our Nation's" original script was written by David Mallin, head of ODU's film department; co-produced by Mallin and Monty Ross, Spike Lee's long-time co-producer and adjunct instructor at ODU. It was directed by 1991 University alumnus Derrick Borte, who has directed and produced full-length Hollywood features.

Mallin created the tale of Douglas, a young African-American boy enthralled by the spectacle of "Birth of a Nation," and the theater projectionist he befriends as he tries to get in to see the movie.

"Its message of inclusion contrasts sharply not only with the racism Douglas experiences in the film, but also with disturbing current trends," Mallin said. "Filmmaking is a powerful medium, and the ODU Film Program looks to empower our storytellers to communicate positive visions. ODU is honored that PBS has chosen the Departmental Production of Our Nation for their online film festival."

Mallin and the Old Dominion team responsible for the project thanked the National Endowment for the Arts for supporting the work.

"Ultimately, Douglas is just a kid who loves movies and gets swept up by the marketing for "The Birth of a Nation," which at the time was pretty over the top," he said, in a Q&A interview for the PBS Online Film Festival website. "He has stars in his eyes and he is determined. The other characters respect that determination, which is why the projectionist ultimately allows him inside even though he can imagine the effect seeing the film will have on him.

Avi Santo, who as director of Old Dominion's Humanities Institute oversaw the broader "Birth of an Answer" project that was partially funded by a National Endowment for the Arts grant, said the genesis for the film was a desire to create a Hampton Roads perspective on national culture.

"We really wanted to shine a light on this," Santo said. "David produced something that is very eloquent."

PBS launched the annual online film festival in 2012. Viewers may watch "Our Nation" and any of the other 24 films featured in the PBS Online Film Festival any time on the festival's website. The format also allows viewers to vote on their favorites and share through social media.

To learn more, or view the selected films, visit the PBS Film Festival website.

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