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Hundreds Attend Screenings of "American Dreamer" at the Naro

By Joe Garvey

Nearly 1,000 people turned out at the Naro for two screenings of "American Dreamer," a dramatic thriller directed by and co-written by distinguished Old Dominion University alumnus Derrick Borte '91.

More than 25 ODU students worked on the Hollywood production, which opened in 12 cities across the United States this past weekend. It will be released broadly nationwide on Friday.

David Mallin, director of ODU's film program, said nearly 400 people attended Thursday's showing. The 500-seat theater appeared to be almost full for Saturday's screening. Approximately 70 people attended a VIP reception at Alkaline before Saturday's showing.

"Thanks, everyone for coming out," Borte said after Saturday's screening. "This is kind of awesome for me."

"American Dreamer" is a character-driven movie set in the urban jungle of a mid-sized East Coast city. When a down-on-his-luck rideshare driver, who makes extra cash chauffeuring a low-level drug dealer, finds himself in a serious financial bind, he decides to kidnap the dealer's child. Filming took place on ODU's campus and throughout Hampton Roads.

The Screen Actors Guild diversity film, which stars Jim Gaffigan, Robbie Jones, Isabel Arraiza and Tammy Blanchard, had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2018.

Borte, who grew up in Norfolk and Virginia Beach and attended First Colonial High School, graduated from ODU with a bachelor's in fine arts. Working with the Virginia Film Office (VFO) and Old Dominion University, he made "American Dreamer" with the support of film students from ODU's College of Arts and Letters. Students received credit for two six-credit internships for their participation in the production.

Borte credited Andy Edmunds of the VFO with the idea for a Workforce Development Initiative, which allowed for a higher tax rebate from the state.

"I've been trying to bring a film here to the state of Virginia for 12 years," said Borte, who participated in a Q&A after Saturday's screening with Mallin, Arraiza and co-writer Danny Forte. "And I've lost out to other states that had better tax incentives."

Mallin said this project was an outgrowth of ODU's efforts to develop professional partnerships.

"We wanted to do something bigger," he said. "Derrick and I had been talking about this idea for quite a while. ... And when the tax incentives came, that was a major incentive to see that this is the right project. We really thank the Virginia Film Office for that."

He added that ODU had a sound stage, production offices and other things that helped the film attain a production value "that looks like it cost a lot more than we actually spent."

It also had something that proved to be fortuitous.

The house where the drug dealer and his girlfriend lived had been purchased by ODU to knock down to make way for Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium.

"It was just sitting empty and ODU owned it," Mallin said. "We shot inside that house and now that house is no longer there."

Arraiza, who gave presentations to ODU students on Friday, discussed Gaffigan's performance. The dramatic role was a departure from his comedic roots.

"It took me by surprise, it took me a minute to think 'Oh my God, he can be this dark,'" she said. "Then the minute they yell, 'Cut,' he's joking about Hot Pockets."

Edmunds has touted educational and economic benefits of the collaboration for the state, and Alonzo Brandon, ODU's vice president of for university advancement, cited donors' role in making the initiative a reality.

"American Dreamer" is available on iTunes. The extras include a 30-minute video about the production. Mallin shot and directed most of the interviews that are much of the backbone of the story, and there is a section that talks specifically about the ODU partnership. It's also on Amazon and Hulu.

So could Hampton Roads be the backdrop for another film directed by Borte?

"I think that the crew here is world class and the locations are amazing," he said. "I would love to make another film here - or more."

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