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Program companion website: www.pbs.org/placeofourown
"A mile off the coast of Cape Cod is the island of Martha's Vineyard and, on one edge of the Vineyard, is the town of Oak Bluffs. For generations, upper middle-class Black families, families like mine, have vacationed here. It's been a place where, at least for the summer, the world did not look at us and define us solely by race.” – Stanley Nelson
(San Francisco, CA) From the Emmy Award-winning director of The Murder of Emmett Till comes A PLACE OF OUR OWN, Stanley Nelson's bittersweet portrait of a place that has special meaning to his own family and many other affluent African Americans—the community of Oak Bluffs. In the 1950s and '60s, an era when demands for racial equality would explode on the national stage, Oak Bluffs was a quiet reprieve for socially and economically privileged African-Americans. These were lawyers, doctors and other professionals who operated primarily in a white world. During the week, they carried the burden of what was then called "representing the race.” But on the weekends in Oak Bluffs, they could let their guard down, celebrate their success with their peers, and be with people who understood and accepted them – people who shared a common past and goals for their families' future. Filled with recollections from well-known Oak Bluffs residents including Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Professor Lani Guinier, and Dr. Manning Marable, A PLACE OF OUR OWN will have its world premiere at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival within the prestigious documentary category competition. The film will then air nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by Don Cheadle, on Tuesday, February 17, at 10pm (check local listings).
Filmed during the summer following the death of his beloved mother – a renowned Oaks Bluff hostess and the glue that held the family together – Nelson's A PLACE OF OUR OWN uses his own family's odyssey to explore the complexities of class, color and intergenerational conflicts within this privileged African-American community. Nelson and his Oak Bluffs friends grew up in mostly white neighborhoods, went to mostly white private schools, and often felt out of touch with what people think of as "black culture.” Says Nelson, "Oak Bluffs was the place I where I could be around black folks like me; the only place I could feel at home.”
For Nelson and his generation, Oak Bluffs was a place where they made lasting friendships and met their future spouses, a place of warm childhood memories, frolicking adolescent adventures and manifested dreams. But for men like Nelson's father, Stanley Sr., the community at Oak Bluffs was a defiant stand against the constant oppression of racism that relentlessly battered their souls even as they rose up the social and economic ladder. As Stanley Sr. recalls, "The legend that I wanted to create was that I – a Negro – wanted to own waterfront property on Martha's Vineyard, and let that alone stand for my determination. We wanted to be in a place that made a statement – we too like it nice, we like it in the brightest sunshine, we like to be right at the beach too.”
While summers in Oak Bluffs brought community, and pleasure, and sport, and celebration, it also served as a reminder of the price of African American affluence in a racist society. The weekends filled with dinner parties and tennis tournaments were often a fleeting victory that faded for many on Monday mornings, especially for the men who returned to their professional lives back in the real world, outside of the sanctuary of Oak Bluffs.
Viewers see in A PLACE OF OUR OWN the age-old issues around intergenerational conflict as Nelson's generation and that of his parents are now dealing with the realities of change as more and more young people come to stake their claim as a part of the community. Some of the genteel older residents, who fondly recall the endless rounds of moonlit cocktail parties during Oak Bluff's halcyon days, feel that these newcomers are bringing unwelcome changes to their beloved community. By turning his talents on the complicated tensions within his own family, and the place in which they were happiest, Nelson's latest work becomes a rich, poignant and perceptive examination of the struggle for the American dream and our common search for a place we fit in — a place of our own.
A PLACE OF OUR OWN is a production of Firelight Media, and is a co-presentation the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC).
A PLACE OF OUR OWN Credits
Producer/Director: Stanley Nelson
Editors: Sandra Christie, Helen Yum
Screenwriters: Stanley Nelson, Marcia Smith
Cinematographers: Carol Bash, Stanley Nelson
Music Composer: Kathryn Bostic
Associate Producers: Carol Bash, Helen Yum
About the Filmmakers
Stanley Nelson (Producer, Director, Screenwriter)
The Emmy Award-winning producer and director of The Murder of Emmett Till, Stanley Nelson is well known for bringing important but forgotten history to television, and was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2002. In addition to this year's A PLACE OF OUR OWN, three of his other films over the last six years have been selected for competition at Sundance. Till was selected for screening at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003, winning a Special Jury Award. Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind was a 2001 Sundance selection. His 1999 film, The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords garnered the Sundance Film Festival's Freedom of Expression award, a coveted duPont-Columbia Silver Baton, Best Documentary at the San Francisco Film Festival, and an Emmy nomination for Best Historical Program. With his wife Marcia Smith, Nelson is the co-founder of Firelight Media, a New York City-based independent non-profit production company dedicated to telling stories of people, places, cultures and issues that are underrepresented in the mainstream media.
Marcia Smith (Co-Screenwriter)
A partner with her husband Stanley Nelson in Firelight Media, Marcia Smith was most recently honored with an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming, for The Murder of Emmett Till. Her other writing credits include the HBO special O.J. Simpson: A Story in Black and White, and the Firelight Media productions Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind and The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords. Marcia Smith has also written for publications including The Nation and The Village Voice and is the author of the book Black America: A Photographic Journey, Past to Present.
Sandra Christie (Editor)
Sandra Christie has worked as a documentary editor for nine years. Her numerous credit includes: the winner of the Sundance Freedom of Expression Award Family Name, part three of the nine part series for PBS An American Love Story, the Emmy nominated series Jazz produced by Floretine Films and the upcoming PBS series This Far By Faith produced by Blackside, Inc. and Matters of Race produced by Roja Production. She was also associated editor of the Peabody Award-winning documentary Malcom X: Make It Plain. She has a B.A in film production from Hunter College.
Carol Bash (Cinematographer / Associate Producer)
Carol Bash has a background in broadcast journalism and independent filmmaking. From 1988-93, she worked as Assistant Producer for CBS News' 60 Minutes and Eye to Eye: With Connie Chung. She has also produced and directed two award-winning short films. Previously, Ms. Bash was an Associate Producer for Blackside's six-part documentary PBS series, This Far by Faith. Most recently, she was producer / camera for Take Back the Courts, a short documentary on the rolling back of civil rights legislation produced by Firelight Media. Currently, she is producing a one-hour docudrama, Soul on Soul: the Story of Mary Lou Williams.
NBPC is a non-profit national media arts organization committed to the presentation, funding, promotion, distribution & preservation of positive images of African Americans and the African Diaspora. More information about NBPC can be found at www.nbpc.tv.
Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the web and the weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. More information about ITVS can be obtained by visiting www.itvs.org. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People.
PBS, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, is a private, nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 349 public television stations. Serving nearly 90 million people each week, PBS enriches the lives of all Americans through quality programs and education services on noncommercial television, the Internet and other media. More information about PBS is available at www.pbs.org, the leading dot-org web site on the internet.